County Farm Bureau members attending Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) Lansing Legislative Seminar (LLS) on Feb. 26 helped celebrate the organization’s centennial anniversary by reflecting on 100 years of grass-roots policy implementation and growth of the agriculture sector through legislative and regulatory initiatives. And they carried on the tradition of meeting with lawmakers en masse, something they’ve coordinated since the 1950s.
Montcalm Farm Bureau member Cheryl Strautz-Rosso has attended LLS for several years and doesn’t take the opportunity to meet with her legislators for granted.
“I’ve always thought it’s important for us at the grassroots level, those of us in the fields and in the barns doing the work, (to) connect with our lawmakers so they have a real hands-on connection to their constituents,” said Strautz-Rosso. “Farm Bureau has always done a phenomenal job of highlighting issues we need to be working on at both the county and state level. (It’s) so important for us to all be here together and getting the same information to prepare us to provide a united front as we work on issues important to agriculture.”
The nearly 400 attendees heard from a variety of speakers during the lunch program, setting the tone for the year as MFB acclimates and builds relationships with the Whitmer administration and new leaders in the Legislature and regulatory agencies.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Deputy Director Dr. James Averill, Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Bill O'Neill, and Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Aaron Keatley kicked off the day with a town hall-style discussion, fielding questions from the audience to help members learn more about the departments’ respective priorities and help the department leaders understand members’ expectations and areas of potential growth or concern.
The directors discussed a gamut of topics including: industrial hemp production, bovine TB and Chronic Wasting Disease management, infrastructure improvements, environmental issues and permitting, natural resources management and more.
The Ogemaw County Farm Bureau received well-deserved recognition during the lunch program with the Excellence in Grass-roots Lobbying Award for their efforts to protect the integrity of the Right to Farm (RTF) Act. In 2018, the Edwards Township Planning Commission attempted to thwart a livestock operation from expansion.
“I'm extremely proud of the efforts and organization of our members in all aspects, but this issue especially because I live and farm in Edwards township,” said Ogemaw County Farm Bureau President Brent Illig. “Our county took swift action that led to a huge turn out to the public hearing where the planning commission was educated on the issue, ultimately leading to its defeat.
“Without the Ogemaw County Farm Bureau this ordinance could have set a precedent across the state against agriculture.”
Guests also heard from Silver Plow Award recipients Sen. Dan Lauwers, Rep. Aaron Miller and former Sen. Tom Casperson. The trio played a critical role in three initiatives impacting all aspects of Michigan agriculture: creating three Department of Environmental Quality oversight boards; amendments to agriculture’s sales and use tax exemptions; and improvements to the state’s large-quantity water-withdrawal program. The Silver Plow is MFB’s top recognition for a member of the Legislature or Congress, signifying farmers’ appreciation for leadership and support consistent with the organization’s member-developed policy.
After lunch, members attended educational sessions to prepare them to discuss policy issues with the lawmakers at the legislative reception that completed out the day.
Related stories from the sessions:
A right to farm? Michigan farmers shouldn’t be told ‘how to farm,’ expert says
Keeping agriculture relevant in Michigan’s annual budgeting process
Though the day-long event was familiar to many who attended in the past, it was brand new and eye-opening to a group of high school students from the Wilson Talent Center in Mason, Mich. The center has an ag-biotechnology program with a focus on natural resources.
Gabrielle Ankney is a senior at Dansville High School and enrolled in her second year at Wilson. She’s studied chemistry, water, biofuels and DNA technology, with a focus on plant and genetic studies. She plans to take what she’s learned at Wilson and continue her education in pharmacology.
“We’ve been to conferences through FFA, but those were geared to people my age,” Ankney said. “Attending this was a little intimidating, for we’re still new to the industry. Overall, I was very impressed. It was interesting to be exposed to issues that I’ll be dealing with as an adult and have the opportunity to affect. I attended the session on Right to Farm and was interested to learn actions being taken to reduce phosphorous and lower nitrogen levels on farmland.
“And in the session on infrastructure, it was good to see the efforts being taken to increase broadband access in rural areas, for that’s where I live and slow internet speeds are a problem.”