At a recent state budget hearing, food and agriculture industry stakeholders—including Michigan Farm Bureau—collaborated to advocate for the Governor’s budget proposal with an additional $4.2 million to modernize Michigan’s sole fruit and vegetable laboratory, located on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU), and to build three mobile learning labs focused on value-added food processing.
The powerhouse of presenters included MFB Government Relations Department Manager, Matt Smego; MFB Legislative Counsel, Rebecca Park; Michigan Beef Industry Commission Executive Director, George Quackenbush; Cherry Marketing Institute Executive Director, Phil Korson; Burnette Foods representative, Fred Sherman; MSU College of Agriculture of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean, Dr. Ron Hendrick; MSU Extension Director, Dr. Jeff Dwyer; and MSU AgBio Research Director, Dr. Doug Buhler.
The groups made clear the essential role the state’s fruit and vegetable lab plays as a teaching and research facility addressing food safety, security and quality issues—underscoring the need for funds to rejuvenate and reinvest in the lab. Additionally, the groups see potential growth in how the lab can prepare students for food processing jobs. And, 47 percent of Michigan’s agricultural jobs involve food processing.
“The lab was outdated 30 years ago and is no longer an adequate teaching facility,” Sherman said. “How then, do we prepare students to work in high-tech processing plants?”
Further supporting the request, Dean Hendrick shared with the committee that the university is developing a food processing certificate program within the Institute for Agricultural Technology to meet the needs of Michigan’s growing food and agriculture system.
“By creating three mobile food processing labs and staffing them with highly qualified teaching faculty, we can offer hands-on experience to students throughout the state. This will…prepare our students, both on campus and at partner community colleges, for jobs with any of the more than 2,200 food processors that call Michigan home.”
The groups also showed support for Governor Snyder’s budget recommendation that included $399,000 in ongoing funding and $2.5 million in one-time funding for the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture (M-AAA), as well as $1.2 million one-time funding for workforce development initiatives supporting food processing, education and agriculture technology.
Resulting from eight industry groups joining forces with MSU Extension and AgBio Research, the M-AAA aims to address the industry’s ever-changing production practices and consumer demands through research and outreach.
Director Buhler lauded the alliance’s accomplishments since its formation in 2014, adding that, “Previous projections suggest that Michigan could grow its overall animal agriculture economy from $5.7 billion to more than $8.1 billion by 2025.”
University leaders demonstrated that their staff adds value to funds provided to the state of Michigan and that with every $1 from the state of Michigan, MSU researchers raised $3 through competitive funding sources.
Appearing to have left a positive impression on the committee, Rep. Hoadley praised the groups by saying, “That presentation was like a well-oiled farm implement.”
This week the House and Senate will finalize their department-specific subcommittee reports and budgets will advance to the general House and Senate appropriations committees.