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Leaders highlight stewardship, future issues at forum

EAST LANSING, MI -- The spotlight was on sustainability in Michigan's agriculture sector Wednesday, July 8 as the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan brought together agribusinesses, commodity groups and related interests for the 2015 Michigan Agriculture Sustainability Forum. The forum, hosted at Michigan State University in East Lansing, focused on how Michigan agriculture can meet evolving sustainability demands, while responding to new challenges on water quality, climate change, energy use, waste management and more.

"As an industry, we know that sustainability has a far-reaching impact that will become even more important in the years to come," said Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association. "Whether it's using energy efficient technology, ensuring high-quality animal care standards, or embracing the latest technology to protect Michigan's Great Lakes, we know that being sustainable ultimately leads to new market opportunities and new jobs."

Attendees heard from experts in key areas of sustainability – including waste management, energy and water use – as well as a briefing on climate change and its potential impacts on Michigan's agriculture sector.

Chuck Kunisch, manager at Michigan Agricultural Commodities in Brown City and Marlette, presented the work MAC has undertaken to embrace energy efficiency at its grain operations. Kunisch said his elevators are saving significantly every year, following new energy efficiency measures.

"The first step was to determine the best strategies to save energy, which we worked closely with DTE Energy and Lawrence Tech University to get done," said Kunisch. "There's still more progress to be made, but we've achieved very strong savings, and I have been working hard to encourage those in the agribusiness industry to get an energy audit. The stage is set for our industry to make even more progress on energy efficiency measures."

Brian Pageau, president of West Michigan-based Midwest Energy Group, echoed Kunisch's remarks.

"If your organization values continuous improvement, lower operating costs, making educated decisions, and pursuing sustainable business practices, an energy audit is an empowering tool that aligns with your values." he said.

By demonstrating sustainability, Michigan producers are also in a position to seize new marketing opportunities among institutions seeking to expand their sustainable footprint, said Vennie Gore, vice president for auxiliary services at Michigan State University. Gore noted that earlier this year, the university partnered with ALM and the Michigan Farm to Institution Network to explore new opportunities for sustainable sourcing.

?"Throughout the Michigan State University system, we serve almost seven million meals every year, and our customer base is looking for sustainably produced food, providing a unique market opportunity," said Gore. "We already buy from 467 local sources, and I'm confident that number will increase thanks to our partnerships with the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, Michigan's livestock industry, and many others."

Industry best practices played a big role in two afternoon panels featuring Michigan agribusiness and commodity group leaders, where representatives discussed how Michigan's agriculture sector is stepping up to produce a more sustainable product. The panelists included:

• Dr. Tim Boring, Michigan Agri-Business Association

• Jim Zook, Michigan Corn Growers Association

• Keith Reinholt, Michigan Soybean Association

• Ken Nobis, Michigan Milk Producers Association

• Dan Armbruster, Co-op Elevator Co.

• Karina Spencer, Star of the West Milling Co.

• Keith Tinsey, Walther Farms

"Sustainability is a rapidly evolving topic in agriculture, and Michigan's farmers, commodity groups and agribusinesses have a long history of leading and innovating on new issues such as this one," said Dianne Byrum, a spokeswoman for ALM. "For the third straight year, the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan sought to bring together experts who can highlight strategies for agriculture to ramp up sustainability, ultimately staying ahead of the game."

More information on ALM is available at