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Sunday, 26 May 2013 22:00

Q&A: Jamie Clover Adams

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Jamie Clover Adams Jamie Clover Adams COURTESY PHOTO

 

Having grown up on a farm in Ionia County, Jamie Clover Adams has spent her whole life involved in agriculture. Previously serving as Kansas’ Director of Agriculture, her experience has transferred to her new role as director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) after her predecessor, Keith Creagh, switched gears to head the Department of Natural Resources. MiBiz sat down with Clover Adams during the Michigan Food Processing and Agribusiness Summit this month at Frederik Meijer Gardens to discuss the sector’s role in the state’s economy.

 

Why is the head of the Department of Agriculture an important job for the state?

I personally think it’s important because (Michigan) feeds the world. Feeding people is important, (as is) feeding people in a safe and efficient manner.

What do you see as the positive attributes of Michigan agriculture right now?

Number one: We have a lot of young people coming back to production agriculture. In my time, we were all leaving, so it’s kind of nice to go to events and see a lot of young people and a lot of young families. Number two: We are the second-most diverse agriculture (state) in the country. That gives lots of opportunities for processing. We have people that know how to grow things. I think that’s an advantage. We sit on 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. It takes water to manufacture food, it takes water to grow food. We have the right climates, the right soils. I just think we’re in a really good position.

What are the biggest challenges?

Logistics. We have water, but we’re a peninsula. (It’s a challenge) being competitive where the world is growing in Asia and India. The West Coast is better-positioned. I think the New International Trade Crossing and some of the Governor’s thoughts on how to improve transportation (will help). Some of our businesses have figured out how to be competitive with the West Coast, so we just need to build that infrastructure.

Michigan consumers increasingly seem to appreciate their ability to buy good local foods. What’s your take on that?

What I’ve learned since I came home is that’s the beauty of the diversity of Michigan agriculture. In Kansas we had four or five commodities and that was it. So you couldn’t take advantage of “buy local” and some of these other trends. In Michigan, you can. I think at the Department, we see the growth in local foods.

Can your colleagues do anything to help out farmers that cater to the local market?

We have a grant program that assists communities in creating what we call a ‘food hub’ that allows local producers to aggregate so that they can get into other markets. If you only have a small amount it’s really hard to get a processor interested. But if local growers band together in these food hubs, then they have an opportunity for growth in sales.

What about encouraging and assisting organic farming?

I think organic has a place in the market as well. Through our pesticide and plant health division, we work with people that use chemicals to make sure they understand all the rules so they don’t mess things up for the people that are growing organic. … We have a big interest in the state in our shipping non-genetically modified soybeans to Japan. Those have special needs. We just kind of see what’s going on in the marketplace and just make sure that from a regulatory perspective that we’re doing what we need to do to help facilitate those markets.

MiBiz recently reported on Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s trade mission to The Netherlands that you also participated in last month. What did you take away from that trip?

I took away two things: There’s a lot of room for technology enhancement. We visited one of the universities, Wageningen. They have centers that deal with horticulture and greenhouses. They are doing some phenomenal work on enhancing greenhouse productivity and making greenhouses energy makers. I don’t understand why Michigan doesn’t have more manufacturing of that equipment and technology. We have the know-how. We have the background. I just have to figure out why that isn’t happening and is there some barrier where we can help make a difference.

And your second takeaway?

The second thing I thought was really interesting (was that) we visited a couple of small dairies (that) make cheese on the farm. The farmer was telling how they belong to a cooperative, but it’s not a cheese cooperative, it’s a products cooperative. They go out and market their cooperative to grocery stores and things like that. Here in the States, the store goes out and looks for products, instead of farmers coming together and saying we have this product line. It’s just a different way to do it.

Would something like that work here in Michigan?

Meijer has a real commitment to Michigan-grown (products), and so does Kroger. It just seems like if smaller producers would join together in these kinds of products cooperatives, it could really make a difference.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 74408 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:21

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