It’s either a closely guarded secret or an inexplicable mystery why Farm Bureau’s heaviest lifting coincides with the busiest time of year on many farms.
Regardless of why it is when it is, mid-October sees the final push of refining hundreds of fresh new policy recommendations and amendments into the tidy slate to be considered at the state annual meeting.
Because of the challenging timing, it takes a special commitment to the organization to serve on Michigan Farm Bureau’s state-level policy development (PD) committee.
After three years shepherding the PD process back home in Tuscola County, bean and grain grower Nate Engelhard is in his second year on state-level PD duty. This year he’s chairing the always-important transportation subcommittee, wrestling with topics like oversize loads, county road commissions, railroads and the like.
“I’ve always enjoyed the PD process,” Engelhard said. “It gives you something solid to talk with legislators about, making recommendations about how they can better serve us and support agriculture.”
Engelhard said most policy ideas come directly from local members struggling with an issue on their farm.
“We also talk to the sheriff and the road commission and the drain commission to see what issues are coming up on their end, and where we can best support or work with them on issues going on in the county.
“But most policy recommendations come right from the members,” Engelhard said. “We open it up to anybody, and they have a certain period to get something into the county board so we can spend some time and go over those recommendations before submitting something to the state.”
Engelhard said the best way for members to get their thoughts and concerns quickly into policy form is to speak directly with a county Farm Bureau leader.
“The best conversation to have is right with a county board member—talk with them about your issue,” he said. “Talk to a director or anybody involved at the county level. We can get you directed to where you need to go.”
New this year to the state-level PD committee is Cheboygan County Farm Bureau President Greg Whittaker. Halfway through day one of the two-day session, the north-country maple syrup-maker was taking it all in.
“It’s cool—I like it. We’re seeing the nuts and bolts here of how it all works,” said Whittaker, who also works in timber management and has started a small vineyard on his land.
“In our county we talk directly with our members to see what they’re concerned about,” he said. “With their input, we look at policies other counties have developed, then consider submitting our own recommendations accordingly.”
Anticipating his afternoon session with the Energy and Technology subcommittee, Whittaker looked forward to sinking his teeth into some issues that hit very close to home for him and his northern neighbors, including high electricity rates and Enbridge Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
“Electricity rates in the U.P. are second only to Hawaii,” he said. “That’s more than a little bit disturbing and something that really needs to be addressed.
“And we all have strong opinions on Line 5!”