MONTCALM TOWNSHIP — State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, sponsored an agriculture town hall meeting Friday to inform the community about agriculture not only in Michigan, but especially in Montcalm County.
The meeting was held at the Ash Building at the Montcalm County 4-H Fairgrounds just north of Greenville and was attended by about 50 residents, committee members, commissioners and more, including Michigan State University Extension Office Director Thomas Coon.
Outman also invited Chair of the House Agriculture Committee and State Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who also serves on he Senate Agriculture Committee, and Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, to Friday’s gathering.
“I wanted to let people know agriculture in this district is alive and well,” Outman said.
Mary Kelpinski of the Michigan Pork Producers kicked off the meeting by talking about how the agriculture industry has changed over the years, particularly in the pork industry.
“We have made a lot of changes,” Kelpinski said.
In the earlier days, most food was distributed from one end of the country to the other by train. In the 1960s, the average farm fed 155 people.
Today, the industry is working on making 100 percent more food by the year 2050 to feed 9.5 billion people.
Kelpinski said the agriculture industry is looking at ways to produce more products with less material. For example, milk today does not use as much water as it used to.
“In the 1970s, people became more cautious of what they ate,” Kelpinski said.
So the industry has looked at ways to breed and feed differently. Over the years, producing pork has become more safe, lean and nutritious.
An audience member asked about feral swine and their effect on domestic pigs.
“They are a danger to the industry,” Kelpinski said. “We relate them to Asian carp.”
Kelpinski said the industry is looking for ways to keep feral swine away from domestic pigs because of the diseases feral swine carry.
Outman asked Kelpinski her thoughts on the building of the new bridge to Canada.
“We are very supportive,” said Kelpinski, adding that pork is exported to Canada and the bridge would be a way to make more money and make trading cheaper.
Michigan Potato Industry Commission
Ben Kudwa of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission spoke of the last 25 years in the potato industry as they relate to Montcalm County.
“Montcalm County is the largest single vegetable producer in the state,” Kuda said.
The potato industry went through a crisis in 1986 when the Ore-Ida Potato factory closed in Greenville. That same year, potato farmers also had a flood, washing out crops.
After revamping and making a comeback over the past 26 years, the region has been setting goals.
“It’s quite an impressive thing in this area,” said Kudwa, adding the industry cannot find enough land to grow all the potatoes they need to grow.
Michigan Farm Bureau
Rebecca Park from the Michigan Farm Bureau discussed goals of the Michigan Agriculture Plan, which officials hope to achieve by 2015. In order to try to complete the goals, they plan to use three pillars:
• Regulatory Reform: Have agriculture do what it does best and see how it can be assisted through legislations.
• Market Access: 99.6 percent of products are transported by rail or truck.
“If we want to double this we have to have access,” said Park of the bridge to Canada.
• Workforce development: The industry has to look at ways to increase economic development.
Park said for every 25 farms, there are five people over the age of 75. The industry needs to look to young students and educate them the process and employment opportunities.
Cherry Marketing Institute
Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute, said because of the mild winter and frost, there was not much cherry production this year.
“Michigan does 70-75 percent of the U.S. supply of tart cherries,” Korson said.
Usually Michigan produces 275 million pounds of cherries, while another cherry state, Utah, only produces 35 million pounds. But because of the weather, Utah will be the highest producer this year.
Korson walked the audience through how cherries are “picked,” noting the cherries are rarely touched and almost all are frozen before being processed.
One thing Korson wanted to make clear is that tart cherries cannot be insured. He noted there is a pilot program in Grand Traverse County for some farmers to try, but not everyone can get it.
Michigan Department of Agriculture
Bill Bobier of the Michigan Department of Agriculture talked about infrastructure and its importance in the agriculture industry. He also talked about the bridge to Canada and its importance to have a bigger market in Canada.
“I think we need that bridge.” Bobier said.