Kent County Farm Bureau member Kylee Zdunic-Rasch speaks on a policy amendment at the 2019 Michigan Farm Bureau State Annual Meeting.

If anyone worried COVID would dampen the grassroots spirit of county Farm Bureau members involved in the policy development process, they were fretting over nothing. They’d also be wrong to think a mere pandemic would jeopardize the quality of policy recommendations submitted by Michigan’s county Farm Bureaus. If anything, 2020 appears to have strengthened our members’ resolve and sharpened their talent for crafting meaningful, well-thought-out policies to protect and enhance Michigan agriculture and our rural communities.

Michigan Farm Bureau’s state policy development committee recently spent two days in Lansing deliberating nearly 500 policy recommendations from 60 county Farm Bureaus and 12 state advisory committees. The result is a carefully crafted slate of resolutions that 400-plus delegates to MFB’s 101st annual meeting will debate and approve, setting the organization’s course for 2021.

Unlike any previous annual meeting, county Farm Bureau delegates are encouraged to spend time preparing for the all-virtual delegate session Dec. 2 — the first of its kind in MFB history and certainly an unforgettable way to kick off the organization’s second century.

In his capacity as chair of the state policy development committee, MFB Vice President Andy Hagenow’s guidance is firm and simple:

“Attend your district delegate meeting,” Hagenow urges. “We’ll have limited time to discuss the policies during the delegate session, so it’s important members get together to determine what questions they have.

“Members should try to prepare amendments in advance to make the best use of our time during this year’s abbreviated delegate session.” 

A small sampling of policies with significant amendments are summarized below. The complete policy docket will be available online in early November.

COVID-19 and Emergency Powers 

To no one’s surprise, delegates will consider numerous amendments stemming from COVID-19, conflicting government authority, and food and agriculture industry disruptions.

“There were a lot of resolutions specifically dealing with COVID and executive orders that have been embedded all over the policy book,” said committee member and District 7 Director Mike DeRuiter. “That’s one of the pieces I would definitely focus on as a delegate.”

Among the amendments:

  • Provisions requesting that proper security, identification and safety protocols be followed by state agency personnel when visiting farms, including compliance with executive orders (Policy #16 Food Safety).
  • Opposition to a segment of the workforce being targeted for mandatory testing or regulatory compliance (Policy #47 Agricultural Labor).
  • Support for allowing healthcare facilities to decide to remain open during emergency circumstances (Policy #62 Health).
  • Language stating that rulemaking authority should be limited by legislative actions and state government should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act when emergency powers are enacted (Policy #67 Regulatory Reform and Reduction).
  • Support for government checks and balances during emergency power situations and that those powers should be valid for a maximum of 28 days without legislative oversight (Policy #68 Streamlining Michigan Government).
  • Support for liability protection for employers providing proper training, personal protection equipment, and working in good faith to protect employee health (Policy #69 Tort Liability Reform).
  • Support for a refundable income tax credit for businesses shut down due to government-issued executive orders (Policy #91 Taxation).

Transportation

Delegates will also review an overhaul of MFB’s longstanding policies on transportation.

State committee member Jarris Rubingh explained that a new “Transportation Improvement” policy will replace existing policies #95 Highway Improvements and Maintenance and #96 Highways and Funding.

“The transportation subcommittee went through the book, and we have a lot of policy on transportation, whether it’s road funding, improvements, rights of way, etc.” Rubingh said. “We tried to organize it so that it would make more sense and be easier to find specific things.

“Read through the whole transportation policy, because we deleted very little… It’s just moved around to make it more concise.”

Meat Processing

County Farm Bureaus also had strong feelings this year about challenges and opportunities for the state’s meat-processing industry.

“We probably had over 20 different county policy recommendations for the meats industry and processing side,” said John Bowsky, state committee member representing district 6. “We crafted a brand-new policy under commodities and marketing, so you’ll be seeing all-new language.”

The proposed “Michigan Meat Processing Industry” policy would add language supporting:

  • Studying the meat-packing industry’s retail sales, custom-exempt facilities, market access, expansion opportunities and regulatory issues.
  • A partnership between MSU, community colleges, career technical schools and the livestock industry to establish a livestock harvest/meat processing certification program.
  • Investment in and promotion of more mobile agricultural processing labs.
  • Creating a Michigan-based meat inspection and licensing system for in-state processing.
  • Limiting regulatory burden for small and medium-sized meat processors while protecting and enhancing food safety.
  • State funding and low-interest loans for small and medium-sized facilities to comply with regulatory requirements.
  • Greater utilization of the meats laboratory and professionals at MSU to support the meat industry, educate students and train industry professionals.

Environmental

Delegates will review proposed changes to the structure of the organization’s environmental policies.

A new policy, Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), was created by relocating MAEAP-specific language from policies #73 Environmental Protection and Authority and #80 Nonpoint Source Pollution and Watershed Management. If approved, the shift would streamline some of the bulkiest policies in the book.

In terms of new language, delegates should look for the addition within Policy #73 Environmental Protection and Authority calling for evaluation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process in Michigan and supporting an MFB study committee on the topic.

Bovine Tuberculosis  

Policy #34 TB – Mycobacterium Bovis Tuberculosis, continues to be a priority as delegates consider language to support requiring heads from all deer taken on private and public lands in the Modified Accredited Zone and surrounding TB surveillance counties be submitted for testing. The amended policy also calls for supporting the movement of cattle out of the region to maintain market access, if testing and other requirements are met.