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Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies

North or South: Balancing Economic and Environmental Priorities is a Common Experience

Date Posted: September 16, 2021

The list of differences between farming in Michigan versus farming down south is a long one. From the crops we grow to the production practices we use, our experiences are quite distinct. But whether we are above or below the Mason­–Dixon line, there is one thing we can all agree on:

Finding a way to balance economic incentives and environmental realities is key to agriculture’s future.

This fact was highlighted recently for a group of young farmers who traveled to Mississippi and Louisiana as a part of ProFILE, Michigan Farm Bureau’s Institute for Leadership Education. During their week-long excursion, participants learned about both sides of this balancing act as they toured the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State University (LSU) Center for River Studies.

The port, which is owned by the state of Louisiana and operated in partnership with both government and private industry, is the eighth largest in the country by volume and primarily serves the agricultural, forestry and petrochemical industries.

Because of the critical role the Port of Greater Baton Rouge plays for agriculture – acting as a hub for products from throughout the country – it has been important for farmers to have a voice in its operations, both in Louisiana and beyond.

“Louisiana Farm Bureau works closely with our state government to have farmers involved with the port,” said Andy Brown, Louisiana Farm Bureau. “Currently, Mr. Bob Kelly – who is a member of our state Farm Bureau board – serves as president of the port’s board of commissioners.”

Although economics are most often at the forefront of conversations regarding the port, leadership must also take into account environmental considerations.

For the last several years, low water levels in the Mississippi River have been a challenge for companies doing business through the port. Recently, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an effort was initiated to deepen the river by dredging from the current 45-foot depth to 50 feet, in order to better facilitate modern vessel size. The project includes financial support from the United Soybean Board (USB).

“That means all soybean growers, including those of you in Michigan, helped support port access and continued shipping infrastructure through your checkoff dollars,” said Robert Marionneaux, Director of Governmental Affairs and Outreach for the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.

According to an article from Engineering News-Record, material dredged as part of the project will be used to restore nearly 1,500 acres of marsh – initiatives the ProFILE class learned about more extensively during their next tour stop.

“Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost close to 2,000 square miles of land,” explained Clint Wilson at LSU’s Center for River Studies. “Without significant changes, we project that an additional 4,000 square miles could be lost over the next 50 years.”

Thankfully, complacency is not something the state is open to. Through the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Louisiana has committed $50 billion over 50 years to develop and implement “efforts to achieve comprehensive coastal protection for Louisiana.” One of the ways they are reaching this goal is through partnerships like the one with the Center for River Studies, which includes the creation of a 10,000 square foot model that replicates how water moves through the Mississippi River Delta region and allows scientists and engineers to study ways to restore land along Louisiana’s coastline.

“While the specifics of the environmental challenges we face are different, you can’t dismiss the fact that water is a critical resource for both Michigan and southern farmers,” says Emily Reinart, Michigan Farm Bureau’s grassroots policy outreach specialist. “We were grateful for the opportunity to have our ProFILE class tour both the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and the LSU Center for River Studies. Based on what they learned, they can better consider all the ways we must support farmers from an economic standpoint without losing sight of how our activities impact our ability to operate sustainably long into the future.”

ProFILE is a 15-month program designed for Farm Bureau members ages 25-35. Visit the Michigan Farm Bureau website to learn more.