By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) recently honored three state lawmakers for their efforts in 2012 to help ensure the prosperity of state agriculture, and the organization presented its fifth annual Excellence in Grassroots Lobbying Award to Ottawa County Farm Bureau leaders for their outstanding grassroots lobbying efforts.
MFB President Wayne Wood presented Silver Plow Awards to District 16 Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) and District 101 Reps. Ray Franz (R-Onekama) and District 105’s Greg MacMaster (R-Kewadin) during the organization’s Lansing Legislative Seminar Feb. 13.
“We don’t make it easy for our elected (officials) to earn the Silver Plow,” Wood said. “To qualify, the legislator must have been a supporter, cosponsor or sponsor of specific legislation that benefits a segment of Michigan agriculture, if not all of Michigan agriculture.”
MFB has recognized 29 legislators with the Silver Plow Award since its inception in 1996. Wood said honoring three for their work during the 96th Legislative Session “is reflective of the efforts we have seen in the legislature to get things done for agriculture and the recognition that agriculture receives.”
Caswell, who is serving his second term in the state Senate, was lauded for sponsoring three pieces of farm-friendly legislation in 2012. SB 946 amended the Insect Pest and Plant Disease Law, implementing a risk-based approach to nursery inspections and capping inspection fees at no more than the Consumer Price Index. SB 1121 amended the Michigan Vehicle Code to better define “implements of husbandry,” making it more consistent with neighboring states.
And SB 862 amended the General Property Tax Act to apply farm land tax exemptions to undeveloped parcels contiguous to farmland. According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, SB 862 will save the agriculture industry between $10 million-$20 million.
Jay Williams, president of the Hillsdale County Farm Bureau, recognized Caswell as a friend of agriculture. “Senator Caswell’s background is in the rural community,” he said. “He understands what we’re facing in Hillsdale County and in the district, and does a good job responding to our concerns.”
Franz was recognized for introducing House Bill 5717, the Agriculture Disaster Loan Origination Program Act of 2012, which calls for low-interest loans to fruit growers and processors whose crops were destroyed by last year’s unusual weather conditions. Franz serves the counties of Benzie, Leelanau, Manistee and Mason, which were hard hit by last year’s pattern of unseasonably warm spring weather followed by freeze events.
HB 5717 leveraged nearly $300 million for fruit growers, handlers and processors. MFB State Governmental Affairs Department Manager Tonia Ritter said Franz recognized the need for assistance early in the season and went to work on behalf of the state’s fruit growers.
“He sponsored the legislation and, in our conversations with other legislators, was very helpful in personalizing this story – helping his cohorts in the legislature understand why this was so critically important to the state,” she said.
MacMaster sponsored HB 5228, which amended the Motor Carrier Safety Act to exempt truck-and-trailer combinations from being regulated like semi trucks. The legislation exempts pickup truck-and-trailer combinations up to 26,001 pounds from the regulations that govern semis. They no longer need a Department of Transportation (DOT) number, and they are not required to undergo annual inspections or post-trip inspections.
“(The Act) really put us at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states that have different standards,” said MFB Legislative Counsel Matt Smego. “HB 5228 was designed to get at the heart of this issue and put us back on an even playing field with those other states in raising the threshold for when those regulations kick in.
“This really does create some regulatory relief and is common-sense legislation,” he added.
In addition, MFB recognized Ottawa County Farm Bureau members for their legislative efforts. That office pursued a dozen public policy goals for 2011-12, from routine policy development to hosting legislative events, including a springtime legislative breakfast, summer picnic, personal office visits and town hall meetings.
Ottawa County volunteers made a total of 160 contacts with state and federal legislators on issues ranging from the 2012 spring freeze and subsequent fruit crop losses, to the effect of wetland delineation on blueberry fields.
District 30 Republican Sen. Arlan Meekhof said he is impressed with the Ottawa County Farm Bureau for its commitment to educating the public and its legislators about agriculture through farm days and other activities.
“It gives us a real-time view of what’s going on besides just harvesting a crop or milking cows, to give us a better understanding so when they’re making policy decisions they have in their mind what really goes on on a farm,” he said.
State Rep. Joe Haveman (R-District 90) agreed. “They influence my decision-making by putting themselves out there in the forefront and reminding me every day how important ag is to the Michigan economy,” he said.
“Their strength is the grassroots – we don’t just hear from them during campaign time.”