PHOENIX -- Michigan’s delegation at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 2017 Annual Meeting secured some key policy provisions beneficial to the state’s vital specialty crop sector. Two national-level policies were augmented with language supporting the expansion of fruit and vegetable options in school lunch programs.
Policy 111, School & Government Food Purchasing Programs, and 239, National Farm Policy, now reflect the priorities and best interests of Michigan’s specialty crop sector, which produces countless fresh and processed fruit and vegetable products.
“These changes give Michigan producers a greater opportunity to sell more produce through different marketing channels,” said Ben LaCross, a Leelanau County cherry producer who represents District 9 on the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Board of Directors and was among MFB’s voting delegation at AFBF.
With these refinements now codified in national-level Farm Bureau policy, the organization can prioritize working with the national academic community to explore opportunities for incorporating all forms of domestically produced fruits and vegetables in schools across the country.
“Michigan came here and made sure our specialty crop industry’s voice would remain prominent in future farm bill discussions,” said John Kran, MFB’s national legislative counsel. “Whether that’s guaranteeing access to research or increasing our marketing opportunities, we’re committed to keeping our fruit and vegetable growers’ priorities on the national agenda.”
Other Michigan priorities addressed in Phoenix included the so-called “right to repair” and several safety-net components of the next national-level farm bill.
Right to Repair
Concern over the right to repair—referring to the widening gaps between increasingly technical equipment and the humans operating it—turned out to be common ground Michigan shared with state Farm Bureaus across the nation.
Farmers in all parts of the country are seeing fewer options for repairing their own equipment, and concern is mounting about third-party access to the proprietary and farm-specific information that accumulates in onboard computers.
“Time will tell how this issue will manifest itself at the ground level,” Kran said. “Codifying these concerns in policy was a first step—our members are expressing their concern about how evolving technology could impact their day-to-day operations on the farm.
“Overall we’re excited about technology, but we’re starting to see some unanticipated side effects—some growing pains—related to that technology with respect to data access and ownership.”
MFB hopes the next farm bill will refine and strengthen the dairy industry’s safety net.
“Now we have a framework in place to build on and work toward improving those risk-management components that aren’t yet performing optimally for our farmers,” said Ernie Birchmeier, MFB’s livestock and dairy specialist. “Now we can start building a better safety net.”
Kran said that while dairy policy is always among the more complex issues the organization addresses, MFB will continue working with its advisory committees, county Farm Bureau leadership and rank-and-file members to make sure the next farm bill provides the soundest possible protections for Michigan’s farmers.
Altogether more than 100 agriculture industry leaders represented Michigan’s farming community at AFBF’s 98th annual meeting, Jan. 6-11 in Phoenix, Ariz. Attendees included MFB leaders, select county Farm Bureau presidents and staff members, half a dozen Young Farmer contestants and several rank-and-file farmers from across the state.
In policy deliberations, Michigan was represented by 11 voting delegates and six alternates, who together comprise the MFB board of directors, led by President Carl Bednarski.
“I wish all of our members could come to an AFBF Annual Meeting to see how the process they start at the local level culminates in this national event,” Bednarski said. “Every year, Michigan earns the respect of every other state represented here, and that’s a high compliment to every active member of Michigan Farm Bureau.
“Without their involvement, Farm Bureau’s voice at the national level wouldn’t be nearly what it is today.”