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Sharon Rabe


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Michigan's Ag Plan: MAP to the Future

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What are the roadblocks that are slowing or stopping Michigan agriculture from growing? How can Farm Bureau members address these challenges? These were the questions posed to a group of county Farm Bureau presidents in early 2012. Their response is the foundation of Michigan Farm Bureau's "Michigan Ag Plan: MAP to the Future."

The Michigan Ag Plan identifies organizational priorities for Michigan Farm Bureau based on three key areas that are pivotal to the growth of Michigan's food and agriculture industry: improving market access, addressing bad regulations, and developing an adequate, well-trained workforce. For each priority, specific issues that warrant attention have been singled out - all of which relate back to grassroots, Farm Bureau member-developed policy.

With the Michigan Ag Plan as a roadmap, the goal is for engaged county Farm Bureaus to help affect change locally by challenging decision-makers, including elected officials and political candidates, to acknowledge these priority issues and take actions that help Michigan agriculture to grow.

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Market Access

Michigan has an opportunity to expand its existing agricultural markets through additional in-state food processing, increased export initiatives, and Governor Snyder's goal to increase access to healthy foods. But vital to this success is ensuring cost-effective, efficient and reliable access to infrastructure as well as markets for local food and agricultural processing.

Whether by truck, rail, water, or air, Michigan needs a plan that takes into consideration each of these modes of transportation and their impact on the state's food and agriculture industry. Further, rural Michigan is dependent on access to other developing infrastructure, such as broadband telecommunications, natural gas, and 3-phase electricity to compete in the global marketplace.

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Addressing Regulation

More than 170,000 rules have been created since 1974 at a total cost of $1.75 trillion per year. That's a massive amount of regulation! But not all regulations are bad. Farmers often ask for regulations to guarantee that agricultural interests are recognized and the resulting 'rules' are not job killers.

The key is assuring that regulators are allowed to make rules that support agriculture and are restricted from adopting regulations that cause undue barriers. Farmers also need to keep an eye on "judge made law" and the factors that contribute to this increasing body of regulations. And we need to demand that spending on regulations, regulators and enforcement is transparent. In the end, getting rid of bad rules is important, but farmers also need to modify the process by which we become subject to bad rules.

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Workforce Development

A large part of Michigan's reinvention hinges on employment: jobs for unemployed, displaced or newly graduated job seekers; advancement opportunities for existing employees; jobs that keep people in Michigan and attract new residents; and an available workforce that is qualified to fill jobs that are presently or projected to be in high demand, either full-time, part-time or seasonal.

The good news is the outlook for agricultural job growth is bright. The Business Leaders for Michigan identified the natural resources economy as an industry that Michigan should build on for its turnaround. And last year at a first-ever agricultural summit, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder set a goal to increase food and agricultural jobs by 10 percent by 2015. Achieving this goal, however, requires addressing factors which can help - or hurt - agricultural workforce development in Michigan.