By Jeremy Christian Nagel
LANSING — Founded 99 years ago out of farmers’ need for a louder voice in Lansing, the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) this week brought that voice to bear at its Lansing Legislative Seminar, an annual opportunity for the state’s farmers to share their issues and priorities directly with lawmakers. An axis of the organization’s political programming since the 1950s, Lansing Legislative Seminar brings hundreds of Farm Bureau members to the capital city every winter for current-issue updates and for “face time” with the public servants they’ve helped elect to represent their priorities in public office.
Addressing attendees during a luncheon program, MFB President Carl Bednarski urged the audience of hundreds of farmers to not squander the political capital they and their predecessors have amassed.
“Your involvement in the election process is crucial,” Bednarski said, plugging some of the organization’s many opportunities for involvement. “Be part of the candidate evaluation process—help choose our ‘Friends of Agriculture.’”
MFB’s annual Grassroots Lobbying Award speaks to another facet of Farm Bureau’s political clout; it goes annually to one county Farm Bureau for exceptional policy advocacy efforts, building relationships with elected officials, and informing and influencing them on issues impacting the state’s food and farm sector.
This year’s honor went to the Calhoun County Farm Bureau for its efforts in alerting members and industry partners that a local township was overstepping its bounds and the Michigan Right-to-Farm Act. Calhoun took quick action last year when Leroy Township, south of Battle Creek, drafted its own regulations about siting livestock farms, adding unnecessary and illegal regulations beyond the state’s Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs).
“This is clearly an overreach by a township that is not listening to the community,” said Andrea Boughton, Calhoun County Farm Bureau President. “Protection for local units of government, farmers and non-farm residents is already in place under the Right-to-Farm law. Right-to-Farm and GAAMPs have been proven time and time again to be effective at allowing for agricultural growth, environmental protection and community harmonization.”
“The Calhoun County Farm Bureau, stepping in and doing this, has really set an example,” said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “They have set the standard others should emulate.”
The two-hour legislative reception wrapped up the event, with scores of lawmakers from across the state coming to the Lansing Center, to hear directly from this active, vocal and potent segment of their constituency.
Lansing Legislative Seminar attendees this year also enjoyed a morning walking tour of the Michigan Capitol and a fundraising event marking the 40th anniversary of AgriPac, MFB’s political action committee. (See related article.)
Guest speaker Matt Rush played several roles throughout the day, sharing his perspective on the importance of the Farm Bureau organization from a number of different angles.
At the AgriPac fundraiser, Rush shared an insider’s understanding of the role finances play in political campaigning from his two runs at state-level offices in his home state, New Mexico.
A centerpiece of the luncheon program was Rush’s motivational message revolving around the urgent necessity for farmers nationwide to not only “share their story,” but share what that story means to the consumer masses whose everyday survival hinges on the work they do, every day, on the farm.
And in an afternoon breakout session targeting members looking to get the best from their volunteers back home, Rush drove home a lesson illustrating how vital communication and collective understanding plays in accomplishing goals and achieving results on limited means.
Other breakout sessions addressed a short list of current issues of interest to the Michigan farmers, including water-use regulations, farm-related taxes and a foreword look from MFB staff at the pending and state budget debate.