By Jeremy C. Nagel
The biggest change incurred by the redistricting plan that took effect at MFB’s 2019 Annual Meeting was the creation of the new District 10, comprised of six county Farm Bureaus in the northeastern Lower Peninsula: Arenac, Clare, Gladwin, Huron Shores, Iosco and Ogemaw.
Previously split between Districts 8 and 10, the J-shaped chain of counties stretching from Alpena south and west to Clare started getting to know itself with a pair of morning meetings at the annual. Scattered across that inconvenient geography are nearly 1,700 regular Farm Bureau members, clustered in the arable openings among interminable stretches of state and federal forests.
Aside from the vast Upper Peninsula (now renumbered District 12), the New 10 is the least compact of MFB’s dozen regions. The hike from Alpena to Clare is three hours — longer when you factor in caffeine-related pit stops, because staying alert for deer takes on new meaning up there.
Deer management — and rallying the members to fight that fight — are two top priorities for its new director, Leona Daniels.
Top External Issue: Deer
One of Daniels’ new constituents, Iosco County’s Jim McArdle, embodies the region’s frustration with the hottest of its hot-button issues: bovine tuberculosis and managing the deer herd most farmers agree is out of control. While private lands are largely picked clean, declining harvest from the region’s vast public lands means the overall deer needle isn’t budging.
“Our county has one of the greatest deer herds we’ve ever seen — big bucks, lots of things — but it’s all on public land, not private. Nobody’s out hunting on public land,” McArdle said. “Farmers are all cryin’ the same thing: ‘We’re harvesting all we can — can’t use any more, can’t take any more — but nobody else is doing anything with us.’”
The “orange army” of hunters that once flooded the region isn’t as large as in years past because the baiting ban has made bagging a whitetail less of a sure thing for everyday, recreational hunters from downstate.
“If we don’t harvest more from public lands, we’re going to have a population explosion much worse than we’re seeing now,” which McArdle said means more disease, more car-deer accidents and more crop damage.
Within the organization, there’s the evergreen matter of getting members more actively involved in Farm Bureau roles and activities.
“We’ve got a lot of younger, full-time farmers who aren’t very active,” said Bob Lee from the Huron Shores Farm Bureau.
Familiar with involvement challenges, Daniels cited the only known magic bullet that’ll reliably secure a ‘yes’ from those asked to help: personal contact.
“It’s really easy to say no when I don’t know you, but once you’ve made a friend,” she said, it’s a different story. “When I get a call from someone I know and trust, and they ask me to do something, how do you say no? It’s really hard to say, ‘No, I don’t have time for that.’”
At least one pair of her constituents have the whole saying-yes thing mastered, and their enthusiasm alone makes the New 10’s involvement potential look pretty bright.
“I grew up on a farm and married a farmer,” said smiley Rachel Bennett about her smiley husband Kyle.
Her home farm, Reetz Dairy near West Branch in Ogemaw County, is a lot like the nearby dairy she married into.
“Our family’s dairy is third or fourth generation — milk a couple hundred cows,” Kyle said. “Six hundred acres — 300 corn, 300 hay. Keeps us busy. We hire a couple other people, plus one seasonal.”
Beyond the twin dairy farms in her life, Rachel also works as a nurse.
“You gotta have a wife that works in town if you wanna make any money sometimes,” Kyle somehow got away with saying.
They both grew up in Farm Bureau families and are excited about the organization’s potential. Kyle’s mother worked 25 years as a secretary in the local FB Insurance office, and his father’s a former county president.
“Growing up I saw all they did with Farm Bureau and what they got out of it — what the results were,” Kyle said. “I’m active in a dairy group, too, but I’ve never seen the results I do with Farm Bureau. What the members say goes right to the state level and nationwide. That really showed me it was a good group.”
Kyle and Rachel are merging into Ogemaw County’s Young Farmers group. They’ve seen the value in MFB’s state-level conferences and are weighing their options between the Voice of Agriculture and Young Farmer Leader events coming up this winter.
“We went to Growing Together and that was really good — we loved that,” Kyle said. “I’d go every year but I figured I gotta share!”
Rachel said the scope of state-level events is an encouraging source of comfort.
“Growing Together was really nice. To go to something big like that and see that many young people… We met a lot of great people there.”