Dairy pricing, a struggling specialty crop sector due to unfair trade practices and escalating Adverse Effect Wage Rates, land-use issues, and food insecurity will continue to require farmer-driven policy initiatives, according to Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski, a Tuscola County cash-crop farmer.
In his annual address to farmers serving as voting delegates at the 104th Annual Meeting of the state’s largest general farm organization, Bednarski credited MFB members for approving policy that ultimately resulted in the first major overhaul of the nation’s milk pricing system in over 20 years.
Bednarski said the ongoing USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order hearing — currently entering its ninth week — was the culmination of policy originally drafted and approved by MFB voting delegates three years ago.
“That policy resulted in a national forum of producers and processors to address dairy pricing, and ultimately the USDA hearing on milk pricing reforms. As a result of your efforts, dairy producers nationwide will have a better tomorrow,” Bednarski said.
Noting the annual meeting theme of “Growing Today for a Better Tomorrow,” Bednarski said the organization is utilizing a similar concept in addressing countless trade battles threatening specialty crops in Michigan and nationwide.
MFB was successful in securing American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) policy this past year calling for a national Specialty Crop Trade Summit to develop a desperately needed wholistic approach to trade reform rather than individual commodity groups fighting costly trade complaints through the U.S Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission.
“Highly subsidized seasonal imports are pouring in from major foreign competitors,” Bednarski added. “Combined with their abundant cheap labor, our country has become the world’s dumping ground, threatening the very existence of America’s specialty crop producers.”
As a first step, Bednarski said Michigan hosted the AFBF’s Trade Advisory Committee and AFBF President Zippy Duvall in October to hear about the severity of trade issues first-hand from Michigan farmers and processors.
Bednarski also credited Farm Bureau member initiative in addressing desperately needed improvements to Michigan State University’s 60-plus-year-old dairy and greenhouse research and teaching facilities.
“Thanks to your efforts and the great industry partnership that has quickly evolved under the leadership of MSU Interim President Dr. Theresa Woodruff, both of those projects received final approval this past October,” Bednarski said.
“It’s truly been a blessing to finally have a university president who not only understands the land-grant mission but is passionate in supporting it and advocating on behalf of Michigan agriculture.”
The proliferation of commercial-scale solar farms, wind-turbine projects and mega-site developments prompted the organization to appoint a statewide Rural Communities Task Force of county Farm Bureau leaders, according to Bednarski.
“They developed specific recommendations for the Policy Development Committee regarding a wide range of land-use decisions, ag representation on local boards and commissions, and food insecurity,” he said.
Bednarski commended member response in opposing legislation putting commercial wind and solar project siting decisions in the hands of the Michigan Public Service Commission, noting members sent more than 4,200 messages to state legislators.
“The message was clear — local townships understand their communities better than three people appointed by the governor, with a one-size-fits-all approach to siting decisions. Unfortunately, the legislation passed with a straight party-line vote in both the House and Senate,” Bednarski added.
“It clearly shows we need to step up our game in surfacing candidates that truly represent the best interests of Michigan agriculture.”
Ending childhood hunger
Bednarski updated members on a joint research project with the University of Michigan to research childhood hunger in the state, which he noted affects “far too much of rural Michigan.”
“That research found that eight of the top 10 counties for food insecurity were rural counties located in northern Michigan,” Bednarski said. “According to Feeding America, food insecurity affected 13% of Michigan children in 2021.”
New USDA data shows the number of the nation’s children living in food insecure households increased 6% in 2022 to a national average of 18.5%.
“More importantly, Michigan was one of eight states that was higher than the national average,” Bednarski continued. “Behind these numbers are families facing tough choices and children that experience increased risk of chronic illness, delayed development and educational challenges.”
Collectively, Bednarski said the Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies, County Farm Bureaus and individual members contributed 2,000 volunteer hours, while donating nearly 320,000 pounds of food items and raising $235,000 to support 79 different hunger relief projects targeting childhood hunger in Michigan in 2023.
Bednarski used the occasion to announce a major $650,000 annual financial commitment from Farm Bureau Insurance to elevate the organization’s social mission to end childhood hunger in Michigan.
“With our statewide footprint of farmers, county Farm Bureaus and insurance agents, we can continue to create meaningful change in the lives of children and their families across Michigan,” Bednarski said.
“I can’t think of a more honorable cause to truly make a difference by ending childhood hunger to provide them a better tomorrow."