By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder commended Michigan agriculture during his State of the State address Jan. 16 for tremendous growth in the industry during the last year.
“We’re the sixth-fastest growing state in the nation,” Snyder said. “To talk about some of our major industries – autos, agriculture and tourism – all are hitting on full cylinders, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.
“Agriculture continues to do well. We had a challenging year. We had a freeze early in the year that devastated some of our fruit crops. We had drought issues. But overall, we had a strong year. We had record production in sugar beets and wheat, for example.”
Snyder lauded the state’s second-largest industry for overall growth from $71 billion in output in 2011 to $92 billion in 2012, and expects that growth to continue.
Dr. Fred Poston, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, believes Snyder’s position on agriculture is “a big positive” for the industry.
“I took his comments to mean that he was looking at agriculture for a bigger contribution to renewal of the economy, and he put value on it,” he said.
Generating additional funding for the state’s roadways was the centerpiece of Snyder’s presentation to a joint session of the state legislature at the Capitol in Lansing. He urged Michigan legislators to approve tax and fee increases that would raise an estimated $1.2 billion per year in additional revenue to fix the state’s ailing roads and bridges.
Michigan’s infrastructure is critical to the long-term prosperity of the agriculture industry. Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne H. Wood said the organization’s member-approved policy clearly supports Snyder’s focus on investing in the state’s infrastructure.
“Our members identified infrastructure improvements this past fall as their highest priority in voting on our organization’s Michigan’s Ag Plan (MAP) – an initiative championing three key priorities: market access, workforce development and regulatory reform,” he said.
“Clearly, the time to invest in Michigan’s crumbling transportation network is long overdue. Farmers understand a thing or two about the importance of good roads and bridges throughout Michigan, and the value of making wise, long-term investments.
“Improving our infrastructure isn’t just about safety and efficiency; it’s about ease of trade – streamlining the vital commerce linking Michigan businesses and their markets, including the New International Trade Crossing, a promising and desperately needed new link to Canada, our largest international trading partner,” Wood added.
The International Trade Crossing is a proposed bridge that will connect Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Jamie Clover Adams said with about one-third of the state’s commodities being exported to Canada alone, the proposed bridge is vital to Michigan’s agriculture industry.
“The bridge is also going to open another port to the rest of the world in Halifax. That’s a much shorter distance to go than if we have to go to the West Coast. I think logistically, it really helps the industry get our products out into the world marketplace,” she said.
In addition, Clover Adams said improvements to roadways and bridges throughout the state will help bolster the industry’s ability to efficiently transport commodities from farm fields to elevators and other collection points.
“For agriculture, it is all about transportation and logistics,” she said.
Poston agreed, saying the governor “is correct about the fact that investments in transportation really do pay economic dividends for our future.
“It’s a good investment strategy,” he said. “It gives an immediate infusion into the economy for jobs to repair and build those roads,” as well as the long-term impacts to the economy from improved infrastructure.
“The Governor is really a big-picture thinker,” he said. “He knows how to take a big-picture view and then reach down into some critical places to stimulate where he wants the whole thing to go. I’m happy that he has expectations and he wants to push the envelope.”
In addition, Snyder called for increased focus on education, moving more state social workers into troubled elementary schools, improving mental health services, reforming Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance program to limit the amount of medical claims and establishing a state agency to help military veterans obtain federal benefits.