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Food system partnership assists Michigan farmers
By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Business and government leaders from several counties in southeastern Michigan have come together to create the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), a long-term project with several goals, among them increasing farm profitability.

Stakeholders in Wayne, Washtenaw, Lenawee, Monroe and Jackson counties joined farm organization leaders, food industry leaders and others to identify the agricultural products being grown in these counties.

The stakeholders will work together to create new processing, food distribution and marketing ventures to stimulate job creation and increase consumer access to local farm products. Such products could include sausages, fruit beverages, cereal bars and dairy foods.

“We’re really excited about meeting regional food demands with local food products,” said Mike Score, a Michigan State University (MSU) agricultural agent based in Washtenaw County.

According to Score, the high “input costs” for farming in southeastern Lower Michigan require that producers become more entrepreneurial and work at the retail level where possible. Score is working with about 20 businesses in the area in conjunction with the FSEP.

One business venture that could fit under the FSEP framework is a proposed local FDA certified meat processing facility. A feasibility study for such a facility was just completed. Although it’s proprietary, Score says the study shows there’s potential for moving the project forward.

Such a facility could help those who raise livestock market their product directly to retailers.

Score also said the recent, ongoing development of an ethanol plant in Riga, Mich., which was financed by farmers, “gave the farmers a confidence boost. The return on investment is projected to be very high.”

Bob Boehm, commodity and marketing manager for the Michigan Farm Bureau, described the FSEP as a project that benefits small farms in particular.

Small farms would be interested in local distribution opportunities, while large farms tend to be more interested in export, Boehm said.

“There can be jobs created by processing and brand marketing. These things typically start out at a small level, but they have potential.”

“I think we need all of these kinds of efforts because we have such a diverse state,” Boehm said.

Michael DiRamio, deputy director of the FSEP, believes there’s great potential for marketing “value-added” in southeastern Lower Michigan.

“Our sense is there’s tremendous potential,” DiRamio said. “People don’t have a good sense of where their food is coming from. Once you raise people’s awareness of quality, people respond. There’s much more demand right now than there is supply” of value-added products.

DiRamio hopes the FSEP can help build an infrastructure to link local food producers with local processors and even retailers.

For example, currently efforts are under way to create a new local food supply chain for Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Two million people pass through these establishments each year, DiRamio said.

Just last January MSU’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources produced a report outlining the importance of agriculture to Michigan’s economy. According to the report, the Michigan agriculture sector generates a total of $60.1 billion annually, and employs over 1 million people.

DiRamio says the report, titled “The Economic Impact and Potential of Michigan’s Agri-Food System,” validates what the FSEP is trying to do.

“We have a very big, ambitious picture that’s going to take a lot of energy to accomplish,” DiRamio said.

For more information about the FSEP, go online at www.fsepmichigan.org

This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.

4/26/2006