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Published in Food/Agribusiness

Agriculture relief grants come at ‘critical time’ for farms, food processors

BY Wednesday, October 07, 2020 01:13pm

Dozens of Michigan farms and food processors have been awarded $15 million in COVID-19 relief grants to create safer work conditions for employees and protect the food industry as a whole, state officials announced Wednesday.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the state’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) announced that 177 farms and 159 food processors throughout 55 of Michigan’s 83 counties were awarded Michigan Agricultural Safety Grants. Farms received $5 million while food processors received $10 million in funding.

The funding, which came from the federal CARES Act, is to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 in the local food industry and can be used for COVID-19 testing, personal protection equipment and other facility needs.

“This funding came at a critical time for our Michigan farms and food processors,” Marty Gerencer, executive director of the West Michigan Food Processing Association, told MiBiz. “Our Michigan food industry continues to spend more time and incur additional expense in their efforts to ensure COVID protocols are maintained in their operations.”

West Michigan food processors that came away with the maximum $200,000 in grants include Clemens Food Group LLC in Coldwater, Gerber Products Company in Fremont, Heeren LLC in Comstock Park, Herbruck Poultry Ranch Inc. in Saranac, Litehouse Inc. in Lowell, Michigan Turkey Producers in Grand Rapids, and Holland-based Request Foods Inc. Each of these food processors employ at least 250 workers.

The Michigan Agricultural Safety Grants were awarded on a first come, first serve basis and helped to retain over 26,000 jobs, according to the state. 

Also, 124 small farms with less than 10 employees each received an additional $567,000 through the MEDC Small Farm Safety Grants for the same purposes.

Program applications were processed by GreenStone Farm Credit Services, an East Lansing-based financial institution with 31 branch locations and one of the largest rural lenders in the country. GreenStone screened applications and supporting documentation and made recommendations to the MEDC for final approval and disbursements.

“When Michigan was hit with one crisis after another, and when there were some troubling trends in food and agriculture nationally, we worked to ensure that Michigan’s food supply chain was safe and secure,” MDARD Director Gary McDowell said in a statement. “And we all understood this could not be done if our essential workers became ill or felt unsafe in the workplace.

According to MDARD, food and agriculture contributes $104.7 billion per year to the state’s economy and employs 805,000 people.

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