“There’s a lot to talk about in this budget that impacts agriculture and our farmer members,” said Michigan Farm Bureau Legislative Counsel Rebecca Park, launching a conversation on the recently passed state budget.
The Legislature finalized the 1,000-plus page appropriations bill on party-line votes: 61-47 in the House and 26-10 in the Senate. Now the $15.2 billion general fund budget for 2023-24 awaits Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s final approval.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will receive $92.7 million of the general funds available, and MSU Extension and AgBioResearch will receive an impressive 5% boost.
Food and farm programs
For programs important to the state’s food and farm businesses, MDARD will receive $92.7 million in general funds for 2023-24.
While the department’s budget reflects a 10% decrease from the prior year, Park said that’s mostly due to the conclusion of one-time funding measures and, that aside, it’s one of the largest agriculture budgets she’s seen.
“There are a lot of new things in here, and we’ll be working with the department to understand the details of the line items and what they hope to accomplish,” Park added.
Among the new funding initiatives is the Agricultural Climate Resiliency Program established with $7 million and a stated purpose to, “promote the usage and implementation of best regenerative agricultural farming practices and new technologies related to environmental sustainability, including measures to address the impacts of climate change.”
An additional $6 million and five new fulltime positions are dedicated to soil health, encouraging MDARD to work with partner organizations to build “farmer-to-farmer networks to disseminate practices and information to improve adoption of soil health and regenerative agriculture practices…”
Nearly $3 million will establish a grant program to expand minority businesses in food and agriculture.
The Laboratory Animal Welfare Program is new and will receive $500,000.
Finally, MiFarmLink will receive $100,000 for a pilot project in the Washtenaw Conservation District.
Continuing MDARD programs worth noting:
$4.1 million to continue MDARD’s work to identify, respond to, and mitigate emerging contaminates, including PFAS, affecting agriculture and related food industries.
$3 million for the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture
$3 million for local conservation districts
$2 million for the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program
$2.5 million for county fairs
$1.8 million for food and agriculture supply chain investment to support accessibility of cold storage, distribution and processing facilities, and implementation of advanced technologies. MDARD will also receive $10.1 million in federal funds through the American Recovery Plan Act to deal with food resiliency systems infrastructure.
$60,000 in federal funds for farm stress assistance programming
Not included, and not forgotten
Park said two items supported by Michigan Farm Bureau were not included in the budget.
“We had a couple of initiatives, the Solving Emerging Environmental Developments and Security Sustainability program being one of them, that we were hoping to get specific funding for that didn't get in there,” she said. “We also know we need grant support to improve and expand on-farm worker housing and we weren’t successful in getting a line item for that either.
“But we're continuing that conversation with legislators – and we urge our members to do the same. Sometimes these bigger issues take a while to develop and come to fruition.”
Shifting gears, Park reviewed other noteworthy budget items that impact our rural communities.
“From an education perspective, there’s a 5% per pupil increase which equates to about $9,600 per student,” Park said. “This is up 22% since Gov. Whitmer took office, which is a big jump.”
Through the budget, students will also receive free breakfast and lunch at public schools. Park said an additional $150 million is being dedicated to tutoring and other support programs to, “try to get our children back on track following some of the academic regressions we experienced during and post-pandemic.”
Some career and technical education programs will also benefit from $25 million for equipment upgrades, with the funds to be dispersed through a grant program, according to Park.
Universities and community colleges
Michigan’s universities and community colleges will receive a 5% increase, as will MSU Extension and AgBioResearch programs.
Park said the budget also includes a $70 million boost for the Michigan Reconnect Program.
“This allows the state to temporarily lower the age of eligibility for the program from 25 to 21,” she said. “Thus, increasing the amount of tuition assistance for degrees or skills training.”
Roads and bridges
Transportation infrastructure, an issue almost always at top of mind for farmers and agribusiness owners, is also addressed in the budget.
“There are a variety of road and public infrastructure projects that will receive $416 million in the budget,” Park said. “There’s also an $80 million investment specifically for Michigan's Bridge Bundling program to replace or rehabilitate more than 20 structurally deficient bridges.”