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Michigan meeting will cover managing seasonal workers
Michigan Correspondent

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Successfully attracting and managing seasonal workers from one year to the next may be one of a farmer’s best-kept secrets.

A farm labor panel discussion is just one of dozens of topics that will be offered during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, Dec. 5-7 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

“The labor session will feature key growers in a panel discussion talking about how they recruit labor and provide some incentives for them,” said Dave Smith, executive secretary with the Michigan Vegetable Council. The council is sponsoring the sixth annual conference along with the Michigan State Horticultural Society, in cooperation with Michigan State University Extension.

This year’s conference will provide fresh fruit and vegetable growers, shippers, packers, processors and retailers with timely information about specialty crops production, marketing strategies, organic production and marketing, wine making, pesticide issues and worker safety, plus dozens more topics.

The conference trade show will feature more than 300 vendors, including a large farm equipment display, chemical and seed company representatives, nursery professionals, insurance providers and a wide variety of products for retail farm markets including specialty foods, jams and jellies, supplies, animated characters and more. “This is one of the biggest shows of its kind in the United States,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of items for farm marketers.”

Three days of educational seminars will include information on producing a variety of fruits and vegetables from stone fruits, grapes and apples, to asparagus, tomatoes and vine crops, plus just about anything else participants can imagine.

The farm labor panel discussion on Dec. 7 will feature Michigan State University Farm Labor Specialist Dr. Vera Bitsch.

She will kick off the session by discussing results of human resource management research in agriculture and tips from managers she has worked with. A grower panel also will share practices they have used to recruit and retain employees, develop long-term relationships and cultivate loyalty in their employees.

Other topics will include John Young of the New England Apple Grower Council from New Boston, New Hampshire, who will discuss his 30 years of experience with the H2A labor program and Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth Assistant State Monitor Advocate Gerry Aranda who will discuss in- and out-of-state recruiting.

Also on the Dec. 7 agenda a family farm succession workshop will offer a walk through the issues related to transferring a farm within a family.

“Dr. Ron Hanson of the University of Nebraska has worked with farm families for over 30 years on succession and the importance of communication in families when they’re facing the decision of the next generation buying the farm,” Smith said.

A new topic this year will be food safety issues, scheduled for 11 a.m., Dec. 6.

“We added this topic to address some of the good agricultural management practices that farms need to follow,” Smith said. “It’s especially timely this year with the recent spinach incident in California.”

An industry outlook luncheon is planned for noon Dec. 5. The event is intended to bring together grower leaders and others with an interest in Michigan agriculture. Michigan is second only to California in the diversity of its agriculture, and this unique characteristic offers many opportunities for the future. The guest speaker will be Burton Eller, the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

He will cover the next farm bill, including aspects that may impact specialty crops.

Registration is required. Preregistration is available online at or call Hilary Morolla at 810-234-4126. The cost is $75 and spouses may register for an additional $15. The registration fee for college students and MSU staff is $5.

A special registration fee for Thursday only is $25 and offers admission to the expo’s trade show and education sessions. Registration at the expo will be in the Grand Gallery of DeVos Place Convention Center and will open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 5-6 and 8 a.m. to noon Dec. 7.

This farm news was published in the Nov. 22, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.