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Ernie’s Journey: On the Banks of the Red Cedar

Here’s me emceeing a member-benefits presentation in 2006 at Ag Expo, a long-running event that attracted hundreds of Michigan farmers to MSU every summer.
Date Posted: March 27, 2024

My passion for Michigan State University started in 1978-79, watching Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and their fellow Spartans on a little black-and-white TV. I’d stay up late watching every game I could. 

That passion deepened in high school as I participated in FFA and visited campus for state convention, leadership and skills contests. After high school it was the only place I wanted to go, so after the Ag Tech Livestock Production Program I earned my bachelor’s in agriculture communications. Shortly thereafter, my Farm Bureau career started.

As a student I worked at MSU’s Swine Teaching and Research Farm, the Animal Science Department and Michigan Pork Producers Association — all experiences that helped shape me. 

One of my first MSU-related projects at Farm Bureau involved helping secure funding for the Animal Industry Initiative. Alongside legends Ron Nelson and Al Almy, I lobbied for the necessity of animal-science facilities and a new livestock pavilion (which would later house the Michigan Livestock Expo.)

Later we tackled Project GREEEN for plant-based research, a new crop and soil science building and the veterinary diagnostic lab, one of the first facilities of its kind in the country. Its origin was rooted in addressing bovine tuberculosis but has also helped solve myriad animal health issues for other livestock and companion animals as well. Most recently we helped secure funding for a new state-of-the-art dairy and greenhouse facilities on campus.

None of these would have been possible if we didn’t collaborate; all of agriculture must work together. Again: We can accomplish great things if we work together, regardless of our organizational allegiances. 

Research will always be important. I remember bringing animal-ag leaders to Farm Bureau to discuss concerns about MSU’s animal science department. It was a difficult discussion. The Hereford herd had been sold, changes were being made to farms and the industry wanted answers. 

It’s an age-old problem: not enough money! Unlike Project GREEEN, the Animal Industry Initiative lacked an annual research appropriation. After lengthy discussion I asked, “Why don’t we go to the legislature for an annual appropriation for animal-related research? The worst thing they can do is say ‘no.’”

There were several looks of intrigue around the table. Ag & Natural Resources Dean Fred Poston was there and offered $500,000 to start the research initiative. After collaborating with all of our commodity partners we were able to secure a legislative appropriation — and have continued to do so ever since. My coworker Rebecca Park does the heavy lifting downtown and works diligently to protect and enhance our industry. It’s a team effort.

I’ve worked with too many great leaders at MSU to name them all, and served many years in capacities with the CANR Alumni Board, Animal Science Stakeholder Advisory Committee, College of Veterinary Medicine — I even taught an ag-leadership course for seven years. 

All along I’ve strived to ask tough questions, challenge the status quo and have difficult conversations, but my passion for MSU and its role supporting agriculture has never wavered. 

Sparty on, my friends!

MFB’s longtime livestock & dairy specialist, Ernie Birchmeier retires later this year after 35 years of service to Michigan farmers.

Ernie Birchmeier headshot

Ernie Birchmeier

Senior Industry Relations Specialist
517-679-5335 [email protected]

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