By Ken Freestone
May 21, 2009
Intrinsically many of us understand the need to preserve farmland. We enjoy the sight of open land, take pleasure in beauty of crops as they dot our rural landscapes and contemplate the life of living on a farm and working the land. But truth be told agriculture is more than just “green acres” and majestic landscapes. Agriculture in Michigan is soon to be the largest “industry” and is an industry that is “growing.” Pun intended. Michigan needs to embrace the thriving agricultural industry and the opportunities the industry brings, to ensure its long-term viability.
Michigan has a long agricultural history. In the greater Holland/Zeeland area where I live in West Michigan, the Dutch started farming almost immediately upon settling here. Our fertile soils and unique climates have provided West Michigan an abundance of diverse crops and great agricultural opportunities. Agriculture is a key factor to much of the success that West Michigan has experienced for well over 150 years, and it appears this trend will continue.
According to a report from Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan’s second largest industry - agriculture is second to automotive at $83 billion — experienced a 12 percent growth in 2007, the year the study was conducted. “Agriculture is a force for economic stability in Michigan, with yearly economic impact estimated to be $71.3 billion, on the basis of data from 2007,” said Christopher Peterson, director, MSU Product Center and a study author. “This represents a $7.6 billion increase from the $63.7 billion impact projected in an analysis of 2006 data released last year. The report also illustrates that this sector of our economy employs nearly 25 percent (over 1 million) of people working in Michigan.”
Another study underway with MSU and the Land Policy Institute, led by Dr. Soji Adelaja and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance (WMSA)/Green Infrastructure Initiative will take a comprehensive look at the Agricultural Economy for the eight county region served by WMSA (Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa).
The study will lead to the development of an Agricultural Economic Plan for West Michigan and to provide a strategic plan to grow sustainable agricultural economic sectors in West Michigan. The plan will also help identify opportunities, challenges and changes that may be needed related to eco-tourism, right-to-farm legislation and pre-staging farms for energy production. Furthermore, we hope to identify ways to assist farmers to squeeze more value out of their farms from alternative products and mechanisms. We also anticipate identifying new innovations, new markets and enhancements to education and agriculture infrastructure.
The landscape of the economy of Michigan has changed. It will benefit everyone in the state if they embrace those sectors of our economy that are growing and help them remain strong, viable and to thrive. Agriculture is one of the sectors that has been critical to our past and will be critical to our future. The Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture Don Koivisto says, “As the state’s second largest economic driver [agriculture], it’s a sector ripe with opportunity for business expansion, job growth, and is a driving force in our economic health.”
I know that my appreciation for our agricultural community is greatly enhanced and that I am looking forward to supporting our local farmers markets, grocery stores and other food related businesses that have products that promote “Michigan Agriculture.” “Our Growing Industry.”
Ken Freestone is the project manager for the West Michigan Strategic Alliance Green Infrastructure Initiative. He has also served as a Holland City Council member, executive director of the Macatawa Greenway Partnership, and board member for the Holland Chamber of Commerce and owned several small businesses in West Michigan in partnership with his wife. He can be reached at [email protected].