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Carl Bednarski, President of Michigan Farm Bureau Carl Bednarski, President of Michigan Farm Bureau Courtesy Photo

Michigan agriculture sector watches NAFTA discussions closely

BY Sunday, December 24, 2017 06:21pm

One of the biggest issues Carl Bednarski expects to deal with in 2018 is the national Farm Bill, which will address agricultural concerns in infrastructure, crop insurance and exports. The president of the Michigan Farm Bureau discussed what legislation will affect the agricultural community the most.

Where do you see the economy going in 2018? How will this affect farmers?

The economy right now seems to be on a strong course in manufacturing — and a lot of other businesses. But in agriculture, the farmgate is struggling a little bit. Where we see an opportunity in moving forward is food processing. We recently had a new food pork processing facility come online in Coldwater, Mich., with Clemens Food Group. It should be a huge asset moving forward. Also, blueberries: I think you are going to see more happening in that market. Gov. Rick Snyder mentioned he’s working on more (exports) of blueberries into China. It’s a great opportunity for those specialty commodities. 

Speaking of Gov. Snyder, what issues would you like him to champion next year?

For one, we need to look at Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) oversight. There are still some issues we are having throughout agriculture with the DEQ. It would help out the whole process if we could have some technical ability to address issues in that world. Also, food processing: We have been talking about food processing for a number of years with the governor. It has not gone away. We still see opportunities to bring more food processors in and to expand some of the opportunities that we currently have in the state. The infrastructure still sticks out there, too. Agriculture relies a lot on its infrastructure. 

What’s the state of the industry right now? 

Actually, we are in a downturn. Our dairy is struggling, and we are very conscientious of the trade agreements — NAFTA and the Farm Bill. We are concerned where that could be going. Agriculture is cyclical. We understand that we need to tighten our belt, but we understand we can’t have our hands tied and must bring value-added (offerings) to our commodities. 

What else must the industry address in this downturn?

We look at how we got there. Was it trade agreements, was it marketing plans that never developed, was it issues within our own state? I think right now, it’s a number of those. If you look at our tart cherry industry, we are having some issues. A lot of it has to do with the flood of cherries that have been imported in this country from overseas. That has affected our market here. Trade is huge to Michigan. When we see these trade agreements being talked about, we are very conscious of where agriculture is going to be in those trade agreements. Farmers are looking at different commodities. They are capable of identifying new markets, and with the economy and other (sectors) taking off, we hope some of that bleeds over into agriculture.

How has the volatile political environment affected farmers’ plans for 2018?

With the election process, we take a look at the Farm Bill, which kind of sets the direction for agricultural production. It’ll play a key role into how those legislators vote, how they support the Farm Bill. So much of it is going to other things than agriculture.

Looking ahead to 2018, what is keeping you up at night?

What is keeping me up right now is how agricultural practices are being perceived by the public, by the consumer. Labels, for instance: More and more companies are differentiating their product by a label that agriculture has to defend. … When you take a look at putting a gluten-free label on water, (it’s already gluten-free). That’s what keeps me up at night. Those products never had that to start with. … You can differentiate your product through labels, and there isn’t a difference. We are trying to educate the consumer on those things, that food is safe. 

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