When almost 500 delegates meet at Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) annual meeting Nov. 28-30 in Grand Rapids, they’ll consider more than 100 policies developed and meticulously fine-tuned by Michigan farmers themselves. State policies, once approved by delegates to the annual meeting, will define MFB’s to-do list for 2018. Adopted national policies go on for consideration at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual convention takes place next January in Nashville, Tenn.
The organization’s state-level policy development committee convened Oct. 24-25 to review nearly 800 resolutions from county Farm Bureaus and finalize the policy slate for next month’s annual meeting. New policy recommendations—and modifications to existing ones—address issues from renewable energy and infrastructure to federal farm policy and agricultural education.
High points of this year’s policy agenda include:
New language proposed for MFB’s Right-to-Farm policy encourages more farmer participation in township government—especially zoning boards—following an uptick in rural municipalities attempting to circumvent the state’s Right to Farm law.
MFB Government Relations Specialist Matt Kapp summarizes the industry’s collective dismay at such actions.
“There seems to be a rise in townships taking up and actually adopting ordinances regulating agriculture—even though the 1999 amendments to Michigan’s Right to Farm Act clearly transfers that power from local governments to the state,” Kapp said. “The GAAMPs (generally accepted agricultural management practices), administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, establish the official guidelines for farmers interested in preserving their rights—especially when it comes to locating livestock facilities.
“It’s a concern to Michigan’s entire farming community that townships are enacting illegal ordinances that are anti-agriculture—particularly anti-livestock.”
Despite their increasing frequency, Kapp doesn’t foresee such actions denting Right to Farm’s integrity; rather he sees an opportunity for more farmer activism.
“This is just another reason we need more farmers involved in local government,” Kapp said.
Annual meeting delegates will also consider solemnizing Farm Bureau’s support for the Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan, a joint effort by the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Environmental Quality, and Natural Resources to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the lake.
“Our state agencies—just like our farmers—have put a lot of effort toward maximizing our collective effort to improve water quality in the western Lake Erie basin,” said Laura Campbell, manager of MFB’s agricultural ecology department. “Michigan’s share in this situation is relatively small, but our farmer members are committed to doing all they can to minimize potential pollution sources that could contribute to algal blooms in the lake. The state’s Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan is just the latest of many approaches to help remedy this complex problem.”
Other related amendments to existing watershed management policy include support for additional dissolved-phosphorus research and language suggesting that regulations guiding biosolid application be consistent with guidelines for manure application.
With dairy farmers nationwide challenged by low prices, components of the federal-level dairy safety net are high priorities for this, the largest single segment of Michigan agriculture. Accordingly, delegates will deliberate on two key facets of the Farm Bill discussions already under way in Congress.
If adopted at the federal level, proposed changes to whole farm revenue insurance and the dairy margin protection program could help strengthen the existing safety net designed to help American dairy farmers weather low-price cycles and other flavors of market variations.
“The 2014 Farm Bill made great strides toward diversifying farmers’ risk-management options,” said MFB National Legislative Counsel John Kran. “These modifications our members will be discussing later this month would go a long way toward helping stabilize the complicated and highly variable dairy sector.”
A labeling issue under the skin of dairy farmers nationwide will also be considered.
“There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about labeling plant-based products as ‘milk,’” Birchmeier said. “Not surprisingly, dairy farmers would like to see the word ‘milk’ reserved—exclusively—for products that meet the scientific definition of milk, meaning products from a livestock animal’s mammary system.
“They’re not looking to deny the producers of soy- or almond-based beverages their share of the marketplace, but they are hoping for some clarity to better drive home the distinction for consumers.”
Reinforcement of the organization’s existing TB policy calls for a dramatic reduction of the deer herd in the four-county modified accredited zone (Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda counties). The revision specifically supports state and federal agency culling, a spring hunt and unlimited fall hunting as means of more aggressively battling the disease that’s become the perennial dread of cattlemen and dairy farmers throughout the northeastern Lower Peninsula. Support is also included for strengthening existing policy’s supporting for a statewide ban on baiting and feeding.