Members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees today met for a special joint hearing at Michigan State University to address the pressures squeezing the state’s agriculture industry in a difficult year.
“I am grateful to our farmers and other key stakeholders for coming forward to share their stories and help build a prosperous future for Michigan’s agriculture economy,” said Rep. Julie Alexander, chair of the House Agriculture Committee. “This is a difficult time for Michigan’s diverse agriculture producers. We heard today about the long-term impacts of this crop year. Supporting our producers is not just about protecting rural life. We all depend on them for the food we put on the table for our families. Uncertainty is the biggest factor facing our producers, and so we will continue to remain engaged, listen and learn.”
Michigan’s farmers are coping with a challenging growing season, with this spring’s record rainfall hindering planting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 17.3% of Michigan farmland was not planted this year, compared to the national average of 7%. In addition, the industry continues to face global economic pressures and financial stress.
“The agriculture industry is one of Michigan’s largest and most important industries,” said Sen. Kevin Daley, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This planting season has presented extreme weather and other unique challenges that have drastically set Michigan farmers back. This hearing was a way to discuss how we can address these issues both short and long-term, and to discuss resources currently available to farmers in our state.”
The joint hearing developed out of concern for Michigan’s farmers due to the wet spring, inability to plant crops, and other factors making agricultural operations difficult. Key stakeholders and experts representing all corners of Michigan’s farm industry were given the opportunity to share information about the industry’s outlook and ideas to further support Michigan’s farmers.
“I appreciate the opportunity to highlight the myriad of challenges currently facing Michigan’s farming community. From severe snow, catastrophic cold, historic rainfall, workforce shortages, low prices and more, our farmers are under tremendous pressure to feed their families and ours,” said Gary McDowell, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development director. “Through continued partnership with our friends in the Legislature, like the recent loan origination program, I know that the state’s growers will overcome these hurdles and plant the seeds for future success.”
In addition to extreme weather and an uncertain economic outlook, farm owners and workers continue to face chronic pressures — such as declining incomes and high-risk working conditions. Farmers’ likelihood of suffering a fatal injury on the job is nearly 7 times higher than that of all other civilian occupations combined. At the same time, net farm income and net cash farm income has declined by half since 2013.
“MSU Extension’s unique combination of mental health assistance, financial management and production education is in direct response to the crisis currently facing American agriculture,” said Jeff Dwyer, Ph.D., MSU Extension director. “But this work is long overdue, and it will not end when the current crisis ends. We must continue to invest in helping farm families, agribusiness professionals and rural communities prepare for challenges well into the future.”
A dozen witnesses representing more than a half-dozen individual organizations at all levels of Michigan’s agriculture industry testified at Tuesday’s event. The complete list of speakers was as follows:
- Joel Johnson, Michigan State Executive Director, USDA Farm Service Agency
- Garry Lee, Michigan State Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Adrienne McTaggart, Springfield Regional Office Senior Risk Management Specialist, USDA Risk Management Agency
- Gary McDowell, Director, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD)
- Ken McFarlane, Chief Deputy Director, MDARD
- Ron Hendrick, Dean of College and Natural Resources, Michigan State University
- Jeff Dwyer, Extension Director, Michigan State University
- Dave Armstrong, President and CEO, Greenstone Farm Credit Services
- Rebecca Park, Michigan Farm Bureau
- Doug Darling, Monroe County Farmer
- Stephanie Schafer, Clinton County Farmer
- Tim Boring, Vice President, Michigan Agri-Business Association
- Phil Korson, President, Cherry Marketing Institute
The House and Senate Agriculture committees met jointly to hear farmers and stakeholders address the long-term challenges facing the industry.