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Great Lakes Article:

State Farm Bureau Sets Policies
Courier Leader
12/27/2002


While Michigan Farm Bureau's (MFB) stance on the deer herd was grabbing headlines, MFB members at last week's 83rd MFB Annual Meeting were developing policy on a host of other issues that are as equally important to the agriculture industry, Michigan residents, and the state as a whole.

      Some of the top issues considered beyond wildlife management are summarized below. Policies adopted on state issues determine the direction MFB takes over the course of 2003, while approved resolutions dealing with national and international concerns are forwarded to the American Farm Bureau Federation for consideration at the national annual meeting, Jan. 19-22 in Tampa Bay, Fla.

      Water Use in the Great Lakes Basin

      In response to demands for Great Lakes water from other states and nations with water concerns or potential shortages, MFB delegates adopted policy opposing the diversion of water "in its natural state" from the Great Lakes Basin. Policy-makers, however, agreed that agricultural use of water is not a diversion. The approved policy states that "water used in agricultural production and/or products is an intrinsic and essential use of water and is not a diversion."

      Delegates supported "efforts which will provide a high priority status to agriculture for water use" and the development of a study of agricultural water use and the associated ecological benefits, including the benefit of healthy plants to the environment, the benefit of increased quality and quantity of agricultural products to the food chain, and the importance of agricultural lands to groundwater recharge.

      MFB members also opposed water use permits and recommended "the enactment of legislation that," among other things, "strengthens Michigan's ability to protect and preserve the waters of the Great Lakes Basin."

      Michigan Department of Agriculture

      With state budget cuts carving deeply into the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), MFB delegates strongly supported "the restoration of adequate funding" to MDA so it can "allow more than one-for-four employee replacement." Delegates also voted to oppose "any attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the MDA by merging it with any government agency or department."

      The adopted policy also supports state and/or federal funding for all required testing for diseases such as bovine tuberculosis (TB) and split-state TB status.

      Agricultural Pollution Prevention Methods and Authority

      Showing farmer unity on pollution prevention methods, delegates quickly passed a resolution to "support the agreement reached between the state of Michigan and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding general permitting under the Clean Water Act."

      Earlier this year, under pressure from environmental groups that had sued several Michigan farms for alleged pollution discharges, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) agreed to issue a general permit for all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that have had a DEQ-verified discharge in the past two years.

      Farm Bureau, meanwhile, worked with state agencies to help develop and implement the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) to allow CAFO operators who had not polluted and other farmers to be voluntarily verified as sound environmental stewards.

      On the delegate floor, MFB policy-makers moved for continued support of Michigan's Right-to-Farm program, MAEAP, the DEQ's authority to enforce the state's present zero-discharge law, and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) development, which is required for both the general permit and MAEAP verification. Delegates opposed issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System individual permits that are being pushed by environmental groups as well as EPA's attempt to revoke Michigan's delegated authority to enforce the Clean Water Act.

      Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health

      MFB delegates threw their support behind the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University by stating the need for "full funding for the operation of the lab." The new state-of-the-art facility is nearly complete but lacks funding to cover increased operating expenses estimated at $3 million annually.

      Taxation

      Noting that agricultural property in Michigan is taxed at nearly twice the national average, delegates approved policy supporting development of legislation that voluntarily allows landowners to enroll in a program that assesses farm buildings at half their current taxable value and farm property taxes at $5 per acre in exchange for temporary preservation of farmland for 20 years. Adopted policy calls for reduced State Equalized Value or tax exempt status for land designated for restricted use. Delegates also approved language that supports tax credits to create jobs and tax equity for the agricultural economy; use of tax abatements and Renaissance Zones; exemption of PA 116 land from all special assessments that do not benefit the farm; and sales tax exemption status for all inputs directly related to agricultural production.

      U.S. Farm Policy

      Acknowledging the farm bill as a public investment in the nation's food, environmental and economic security, the policy passed by delegates with little debate includes provisions that strive to reduce complexity in national farm policy while "allowing producers increased flexibility to plant in response to market demand." Delegates also supported funding within the farm bill for competitive research grants that increase economic opportunities in farming and rural communities; expand locally owned value-added processing; reduce economic and health risks; and develop new crops, new crop uses and new agricultural applications of biotechnology.

      Policy-makers opposed payment limitations, mandatory idling of land or set-asides, government production controls, and a means test for payment eligibility.

      Asparagus Industry

      Delegates noted that the American asparagus industry has been severely damaged by import competition and the loss of export markets, primarily due to unfair trade agreements. They acknowledged that asparagus is a long-term perennial crop requiring a large initial investment to establish acreage, making rapid change in total production capacity very difficult. Thus, they passed policy supporting Market Loss Assistance payments; an asparagus acreage removal program; and expansion of U.S. Department of Agriculture asparagus purchases for domestic feeding programs.

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