Michigan Farm Bureau wants to increase the number of farmers serving in government 20% by 2022. This is part of a series of articles aimed at informing Farm Bureau members about elected and appointed positions that offer opportunities for representing agriculture in government.
Farmers have a lot of valuable qualities to add to county road commissions’ decision-making process.
By Andrew Vermeesch
Michigan agriculture relies on a strong transportation system to get products to and from market. Whether by truck, rail, plane or boat, each mode of transportation plays a part keeping Michigan farmers moving forward. But out of all the vital infrastructure agriculture needs, nothing compares to the importance of our local roads. This should come as no surprise because almost all products, whether coming or going, starts or ends on a county road leading to the farm.
Locally driven is the key principle behind managing Michigan’s local road network. Our Road Commission Act of 1909 established county-level boards empowered with local control over roads while also allowing for regional collaboration.
County road commissions are responsible for ensuring safe and efficient transportation for goods and people over local roads and bridges within their jurisdiction. They’re composed of three to five members who are either appointed by the county board of commissioners or elected by voters. Road commissioners are usually paid a per-meeting stipend and serve six-year terms, staggered so not all them are up for election or appointment at the same time.
Farmers are great candidates for road commission service because of their on-farm skills and practical experience in areas such as long-term planning and cost-effective equipment maintenance.
Ogemaw County dairy farmer Klint Marshall milks cows near Lupton and knows firsthand the importance of agriculture’s involvement, being two years into his first term on the Ogemaw Road Commission.
“Agriculture is a small part of the overall population, but in our area farming is very prevalent — primarily dairy. It’s important that the industry is part of the dialogue and that agriculture is represented,” he said. “Revenue generated by farming recirculates four to six times in the community before it leaves, whether that’s through paychecks to farm employees or for parts at the local parts store. Being on the road commission allows me to bring that knowledge to other road commissioners.”
As a dairy farmer, Marshall understands the urgency of certain projects and incorporates agriculture’s unique brand of common sense to road commission decisions.
“For example, grading a road is much like doing field work,” he said. “Just like there’s a right time to do tillage work, there’s a right time to grade a road. Too dry and the grader just creates dust; too wet and the road becomes mud. Having the right moisture in the ground, just like field work, makes a big difference.”
While managing financial operations is a foremost responsibility of road commissions, equally important is maintaining strong relationships with townships and other local communities, especially when it comes to road maintenance and improvements.
According to Marshall,
“Everything starts at the local level and it’s important to have good working relationships with townships so they can provide input and help in the decision-making process,” Marshall said. “Good relationships help alleviate issues as they come up with other farmers, whether it’s mud and debris coming off farm equipment or drainage issues from a road that impacts a farmer’s field.”
Farmers need local roads. Shouldn’t they be involved in decisions about maintaining and improving local roads and bridges? Serving on your county road commission is your opportunity to do just that.
Andrew Vermeesch is MFB’s lead legislative counsel on issues involving energy, transportation and natural resources.
Local government positions examined in this series (and more