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County News


Got-Tires_2020
Pictured is Joanmarie Weiss, a Saginaw County Farm Bureau member and project chair of a recent farm tire recycling drive.

AUSTIN, Texas – A tire here, a tire there.

Joanmarie Weiss, a Saginaw County Farm Bureau member and project chair of a recent farm tire recycling drive, identified a need in her community, one that involved collecting and disposing of 100-pound tires while mitigating the spread of mosquitos and rats living there.

Over two days in March 2019, Saginaw County and Genesee County Farm Bureaus collected more than 860 tires. In doing this, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) presented the Farm Bureaus with County Activities of Excellence Awards, which honor the top county Farm Bureau activities in the nation.

“Farmers have leftover tires they'd like to get rid of, so we started working on finding a place that would accept them,” Weiss told Michigan Farm News in Austin, Texas, during AFBF’s Annual Convention and Trade Show, Jan. 17-22. The Farm Bureaus selected Linwood Tire Recycling of Detroit.

“We were very concerned about being able to control mosquitoes, rats on farms, weed infestations and just in general … that the farm looks better.”

According to Weiss, the Farm Bureaus received about $8,000 through various grants and four trailers to haul the tires. Initially, Linwood Tire suggested farmers could probably only collect 100 tires in each of the 53-foot trailers.

But then about 55 to 56 farms contributed to the donation.

“We managed to get about 250 tires into each of the trailers,” Weiss said. “We say we had about 100 volunteers because each and every time that a farm brought their tires they were told to … be a volunteer for 15 minutes. They had to help us unload their tires and put them in the box.”

It’s efforts from communities like Saginaw and Genesee that show Farm Bureau members’ passion for recycling tires and plastics, said Tess Van Gorder, associate policy and regulatory specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau.

“We’ve seen that opportunities for recycling across the state are inconsistent,” Van Gorder said. “This leads to innovative thinking and program creation by members to help serve the needs of their communities.”

Even though Michigan suspended tire grant funding for 2020, Weiss said she’d like to do the drive again in 2020.

“We'll have to think of ways to get the grant money or how much can we charge a farmer to get rid of them,” she said. “Another response we got when people brought their tires: ‘You need to be looking for a way for me to get rid of my pesticides that I can't use on my farms.’ So, that's a new need that we've identified.

“Both of these needs are member-service driven, and … a big part of Farm Bureau is what can we do for our members.”

To learn more about the drive or to become a sponsor, contact Weiss at [email protected] or the Saginaw County Farm Bureau. Look for the video interview with Weiss in the coming days.

Joanmarie Weiss, a Saginaw County Farm Bureau member and project chair of a recent farm tire recycling drive.

Michigan Farm Bureau is bringing a bit of D.C. to Lansing for members attending the organization’s Feb. 25 Lansing Legislative Seminar. Attendees will have a rare opportunity to hear from a special guest within the Trump administration. Members interested in participating should contact their county Farm Bureau as soon as possible, before the fast-approaching Feb. 7 registration deadline.

The grassroots lobbying event promises an exciting day for members passionate about advocating for agriculture and Farm Bureau policy and learning about state legislative and regulatory issues.

Registration will be open throughout the morning with the main program beginning promptly at 11:30 a.m. at the Lansing Center. All attendees should plan to arrive by 11 a.m. Members looking to arrive even earlier to the capital city have options for starting their day.

State Capitol Building Tours 

If you’ve never been inside Michigan’s historic capitol building — or it’s just been a while — a visit won’t disappoint! Lansing Legislative Seminar attendees can take a free guided tour of the landmark.

Tours depart the Lansing Center at 8:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.; pre-registration is not required. It’s a quarter-mile walk to the capitol, so dress for the weather.

AgriPac Fundraiser 

MFB’s political action committee, AgriPac, will host a fundraiser starting at 10:15 a.m. Feb. 25.

“This is a good opportunity for members to impact the 2020 election,” said Matt Kapp, MFB’s government relations specialist. “Donating to AgriPac helps MFB get the right ag voice to represent Michigan commodities.”

A minimum $50 donation is required to attend the talk by political speaker and journalist Patrick Haggerty, who will share his insight into the 2020 election. A 30-year veteran of political journalism, Haggerty will detail his analysis of the election process, assess political candidates and tout the impact of grassroots advocacy.

Voters will face a full ballot in November, including the presidency, a U.S. Senate seat, all of Michigan’s 14 U.S. House districts, all 110 state house districts, and county and township offices.

Informed by MFB’s grassroots candidate evaluation committees, AgriPac’s Friend of Agriculture endorsements represent Michigan farmers’ collective will in the political arena.

Fundraiser attendees can make a $50 donation via check or credit card; cash contributions will not be accepted. Register here. Personal checks should be made out to AgriPac; business checks to FarmPac.

Luncheon Program 

Lansing Legislative’s hallmark lunch program will begin promptly at 11:30 a.m. in the Lansing Center ballrooms, starting with opening remarks from MFB President Carl Bednarski.

The organization will host the state’s four most influential legislative leaders for a panel discussion: House Speaker Lee Chatfield (confirmed), Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (confirmed), House Minority Leader Christine Greig (invited) and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (confirmed).

Following the panel, the special guest from the Trump administration will take the stage to address the group.

Finally, one ambitious county Farm Bureau will also be recognized with MFB’s annual Excellence in Grassroots Lobbying Award. The recipient will receive a $500 grant and recognition plaque for outstanding efforts to inform and influence elected officials.

Issue Sessions & Networking Break 

That afternoon, members will choose breakout sessions to attend before and after a networking break, featuring everyone’s favorite snack, ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store!

Topics will include legislative or regulatory issues impacting farms and agribusinesses, including environmental policy and water use, state budget items pertinent to the farm sector, a 2020 election preview, grassroots advocacy and more.

Legislative Reception 

Starting around 4:30 p.m. state representatives, senators and dozens of other government and regulatory leaders will begin arriving for the legislative reception, where members will visit with elected officials and discuss current agricultural issues and Farm Bureau policy priorities.

Michigan Farm Bureau is bringing a bit of D.C. to Lansing for members attending the organization’s Feb. 25 Lansing Legislative Seminar. Attendees will have a rare opportunity to hear from a special guest within the Trump administration.
By Megan Sprague

No farmer wants to ring in a New Year still worried about last year’s crop. Unfavorable weather and trade disruptions made 2019 a challenging year for farmers across Michigan, most of whom are hoping for a smoother 2020 after the ball drops in Times Square.

A member of the St. Joseph County Farm Bureau, Rich Baker raises seed corn, soybeans and swine near Sturgis. He said 2019 was his most challenging year to date.

“We fought mud all spring, drought mid-summer and mud all fall,” he said. “Everything took twice as long to do the same task.”

Ashley Messing Kennedy’s troubling year began at the end of 2018. The Huron County dairy farmer started 2019 battling her own postpartum depression and anxiety while grieving over a close friend and farm employee who died of suicide.

At first Kennedy coped by staying busy, fixing farm problems on her own and rarely asking for help. But six months later, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I realized I wasn’t okay,” Kennedy said. “I was sick to my stomach and not wanting to eat. I didn’t feel like being social, preferring to stay home and avoid people.

“For me — an extrovert — that was a big warning sign. I’ve always loved being around others.”

She arrived at that conclusion on her own, even though family members, especially her husband, had gently mentioned that she wasn’t seeming like herself.

“Even if you don’t say the perfect thing, it’s important that you still try to reach out when you see someone struggling.”

According to Michigan State University Extension, signs of stress differ, but some things to look for include:

  • Emotional changes — showing little enthusiasm or energy, anxiety, loss of spirit, depression or loss of humor
  • Changes in attitudes — becoming more critical or agitated over small things, lacking concentration, or having trouble making decisions
  • Behavioral changes — quieter than usual, trouble sleeping, missing social events or important meetings
  • Changes on the farm — increased accidents or declining care given to livestock, machinery, fields or even peers

It’s one thing for farmers to identify stress in themselves and others, but once recognized, action is then vital for managing stress before it’s beyond control.

Find Your Community

Baker manages his on-farm stress through a small community of peers he knows he can call on, even if he just needs to vent.

Some in his network have just been through more seasons than he’s seen, and help by sharing how they’ve weathered similar storms in the past. They offer support and help him identify stress in other farmers, getting his group together to take them out to lunch and work through whatever issues are keeping them up at night.

For Kennedy, having a community that understands you is huge. Just knowing you aren’t in it alone relieves a good deal of stress.

Find Your Joy

“One strategy for anyone struggling with stress is to find something that brings you joy — outside the farm,” Kennedy said.

For her, that’s her Saturday morning running group.

“Running’s been a game-changer for me. It’s so important to interact with people, face-to-face, that you don’t normally engage with. Whatever that is for you, do it — take time to get off the farm and walk away for a while. It will be there tomorrow.”

Let Pros be Pros

Baker’s stress-management tactic of choice is talking with others.

“You can’t just bottle things up,” he said. “If you don’t have a built-in network of farmers, go talk to a professional. In some cases that may be even more beneficial because their opinions may be more impartial.”

For Kennedy, seeing her doctor was crucial to moving forward.

“Even though I’ve always been a huge proponent of mental health, it’s easy to give advice and not take it,” she said. “Talking to my doctor about what was going on was tough — one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — but also one of the best.”

Kennedy said one of the important benefits of working with a professional is they listen and offer strategies without judgement.

“Talking to someone you don’t know well may seem overwhelming, but we often forget professionals have the training to give you the next step,” she said. “Giving them a chance to do their job is really valuable and, while it may not be comfortable, it’s worth it.”

Seek Resources

Providing Young Farmers with stress-management resources was a priority for members of MFB’s State Young Farmer Committee in planning the upcoming 2020 Young Farmers Leaders Conference, Feb. 21-23 near Traverse City.

On site all day Saturday at the event will be Barb Smith — a resource for anyone who wants to talk. Executive director of the Barb Smith Suicide Resource & Response Network, she will also present a breakout session about recognizing the potential warning signs of suicide. (More information about the workshop is available online. Register with your county Farm Bureau before Jan. 17 to attend.)

Kennedy recommends farmers seek out local resources as well.

“Even if you don’t use them yourself, you can share them with someone who might need them,” she said.

“As we move into the New Year, it’s important to resolve to prioritize your health, and direct other farmers who are struggling to people who can help them and recognize this is something everyone will face,” Kennedy said.

“That’s the thing about mental health: so often we just act like everything’s okay, but for most people, it’s not, and we need to embrace that it’s okay to get help.”

More resources are available through MSU Extension’s Managing Farm Stress program.

Megan Sprague is Michigan Farm Bureau’s new Young Farmer Programs Specialist.

No farmer wants to ring in a New Year still worried about last year’s crop. Unfavorable weather and trade disruptions made 2019 a challenging year for farmers across Michigan, most of whom are hoping for a smoother 2020 after the ball drops in Times

State News


Farmers After Hours’ next series, Boosting Your Bottom Line, will build on the financial foundation laid during the previous series, Financial Fundamentals and Profitability. This iteration will explore business planning, connect individuals with grant or loan sources and explain USDA resources and programming.

Live panels flank a series of five mini-sessions where subject-matter experts dive into resources and information to bolster farms and agribusinesses. Each live panel allows participants to join anonymously and ask questions of presenters.

Tune in at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays to catch fresh content, or catch up by checking out MFB’s YouTube channel. Here’s an overview of our next series:

  • Jan. 20 — Live farmer panel; register via Webex
  • Jan. 27 — Building Your Business Plan; GreenStone
  • Feb. 3 — Exploring Funding Sources
  • Feb. 10 — Decoding USDA Programs
  • Feb. 17 — Tips for Low Interest Loan Applicants; GreenStone 
  • Feb. 24 — Grant Dollars: The Do’s and Don’ts
  • March 3 — Live expert panel; register via Webex

The Farmers After Hours series is a special project of the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, in partnership with GreenStone Farm Credit Services. The Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, a 501(c)3 formed by Michigan Farm Bureau, has a mission of positively contributing to the future of Michigan agriculture through leadership and educational programming.

Farmers After Hours’ next series, Boosting Your Bottom Line, will build on the financial foundation laid during the previous series, Financial Fundamentals and Profitability. This iteration will explore business planning, connect individuals with gra
By Jeremy C. Nagel









From top to bottom:
Mike Sell
Mitch Bigelow 
Amanda Sollman
Jeff VanderWerff
Chris Creuger 

Normally the phrase “phoning it in” refers to someone doing the bare minimum to get the job done. But Farm Bureau members taking part in MFB’s Dec. 2 Annual Meeting didn’t get that memo, and didn’t let the challenges of a remote format get in the way of expressing their stances on the 2020-21 policy docket.

One of the big unknowns heading into the event was the toll an all-virtual format might take on the policy deliberations at the heart of the event. With hundreds of members participating remotely — calling in through computers and voting via smartphone — it was easy to imagine some feeling silenced by the distance.

Not to worry.

Neither technology nor the abbreviated time frame hindered a free exchange or kept members from taking an active role in this most sacred of Farm Bureau institutions: delegate-floor policy deliberations.

Steeled for the long game 


Regardless of the meeting format, one of the more daunting delegate feats is introducing, supporting and defending a concept that doesn’t go over as well as you’d hoped.

“We thought it would be a slam dunk but it got tossed out,” said Wayne County Farm Bureau President Mike Sell about a proposal to raise the profile of diversity and inclusion language.

“Let’s just say I could’ve been a little more tactful — I kinda shut myself down,” he added. “Here in Wayne County, we talk about it frankly: Farm Bureau needs to clearly state we need to be inclusive of those people who meet the membership requirements.”

Opponents cited the presence of very similar language already included in the company’s Code of Conduct.

“We view the Code of Conduct as an HR (human resources) tool — it’s about staff, not members,” Sell said. “It’s not the policy book.”

The issue’s dismissal, he said, has only energized his membership and steeled them to dig in for the proverbial Long Game.

“You need to keep even, constant pressure on it,” Sell said. “Others will come onboard but it’s going to be a slow process.”

The cause wasn’t without allies; Bay County delegate Mitch Bigelow offered a convincing defense of the proposal.

“I think it’s important having policy not just saying we’re inclusive but actively promoting and searching out diversity,” he said afterwards. “A lack of policy around inclusion is not indicative of how inclusive we are.

“The more times we can put that in the policy book — and not get hung up on where it goes — the better,” Bigelow said. “As a general farm organization, we’re only as strong as how active we are at getting different segments represented and heard in our policy.”

Go to the microphone


The overarching concept of policy as the organization’s enduring definition was also tested by attempts to codify therein some members’ skepticism about the integrity of the 2020 general election.

Saginaw County’s Amanda Sollman wasn’t letting that go without sharing a firm, concise opinion on the matter.

“We already have laws in place,” she said — existing laws guarding against the alleged voter fraud one recommendation alluded to. “Our policy should be timeless.

“I didn’t even phrase it as a motion,” she said afterward, admitting she expected scant support for her position.

“It’s really important for Farm Bureau to speak with a unified voice when we speak with representatives and stakeholders. We’re an organization made of individuals with a wide range of opinions. It’s vital people go to the microphone and make their voice heard — bring those perspectives to the forefront for consideration.

“People have to take into account different angles and different points of view. If they don’t hear them from somebody, they may never hear them,” Sollman said. “It’s hard to go into that group knowing you hold a different perspective. It’s easy to feel alone.”

We're all guilty

Of course she is not alone; Amanda has good company in those members who aren’t the least bit shy about expressing themselves with conviction.

“I struggle a little with what I even said. I’d heard this notion and it hit a nerve with me,” recalls Jeff VanderWerff, the outspoken Ottawa County apple grower who spoke assertively in favor of an ag-labor housing GAAMP.

Beyond the obvious practical benefits, such a move would dramatically elevate the profile of an ongoing, high-priority issue common among specialty crop growers who know providing quality housing for the seasonal workers they rely on is key to attracting those workers in the first place.

But in an arena dominated by highly mechanized row-crop, livestock and dairy farmers, it may sound like pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

“The simple reality is we’re all guilty: We don’t necessarily understand the challenges other producers see every day,” VanderWerff said. “We have to try to keep an open mind and seek to understand the perspective of our fellow growers.

“Michigan is so diverse, not only agriculturally, but culturally as well, with varying political views, cultural views,” VanderWerff said. “And when you have an organization like Farm Bureau that has as big a tent as it does, and which truly wants to represent all sectors, you have to be willing to speak up for your individual commodity and region.”

Death & t*x*s

Sometimes the challenge comes in reminding folks of certain fundamental truths they readily understand but will go to their grave cursing.

“I don’t like paying property taxes any more than anyone else, but Chris had a point,” VanderWerff said about his peer from across the state: Tuscola County Farm Bureau Delegate and Pioneer Seed man Chris Creuger.

“Nobody likes paying taxes, but how will we fund public services we’ve all come to expect?” Creuger said. “Public schools, fire departments, police, road funding, infrastructure… It all has to be paid for somehow. Those things don’t just happen.

“Specifically about taxation, we have to consider policy resolutions holistically.

“Annual meeting is a great place to have an open discussion to present the facts and let the delegates decide for themselves,” Creuger said. “But it’s important to have all  sides represented, and when you see something on the screen that you feel doesn’t meet that criteria, it’s important that you speak up.

“We’re a diverse organization that represents a lot of different commodities and our needs and desires don’t always fall in line, but at the end of day we try and come up with policies that serve everyone.”

Normally the phrase “phoning it in” refers to someone doing the bare minimum to get the job done. But Farm Bureau members taking part in MFB’s Dec. 2 Annual Meeting didn’t get that memo, and didn’t let the challenges of a remote format get in the way

Way back in February, the 2020 Voice of Agriculture Conference was the last time members got to enjoy personal contact and tours of Michigan ag facilities — in this case Thiesen Greenhouse in St. Clair County.

In a Dec. 11 message to county Farm Bureau leaders, MFB President Carl Bednarski broke the bad — but not wholly surprising — news that the organization’s winter 2021 core programs will be canceled to safeguard the health and well-being of members and staff alike.

“For months we’ve been holding our breath and hoping for a change in the state’s health situation and restrictions,” Bednarski said. “After soliciting feedback from state committees, county presidents and staff, the MFB board of directors has made the difficult decision to cancel the 2021 Growing TogetherLansing Legislative Seminar and Presidents Capitol Summit.”

Note that those three named events actually represent five: Growing Together is a combination of the Young Farmer Leaders and Voice of Agriculture conferences. And the Presidents’ Capitol Summit brings together the Council of Presidents’ Conference and Washington Legislative Seminar.

That clears the slate of the organization’s usual wintertime “meeting season,” the normally predictable sequence of events and conferences that gathers a head of steam with county Farm Bureau annual meetings then kicks off after Thanksgiving with the State Annual Meeting.

Clearing the slate of the wintertime “meeting season” rests on a lot of solid reasoning:

  • Meeting-size limitations from both the state(s) and the privately-owned hotels and conference centers would have shrunk any of the core program events to a fraction of their normal size. Limited venue capacities make tours and breakout sessions functionally impossible.
  • State and federal legislators’ offices are closed and most won’t attend large gatherings.
  • Advanced notice is required to avoid cancellation penalties from venues hosting events. Canceling those events early also means more time to plan alternatives.

State-level leaders are conferring with staff and county Farm Bureau presidents to find alternative means of working toward core program objectives through county, district or regional events or programming. Among those goals:

  • Provide resources, training and leadership development for county Membership, Promotion and Education and Young Farmer chairs
  • Offer leadership development for county leaders and boards
  • Enhance member relationship building with state and federal officials
  • Host Young Farmer district discussion meets
  • Conduct Policy Development discussions
  • Promote collaboration amongst counties and districts

Delegates were surveyed at their district meetings in November; their responses will help district directors, county presidents, state committee members and regional managers plan alternative programming for 2021.

County Farm Bureaus contribute to a core program fund according to their membership, partially underwriting the cost of those statewide programs and enabling counties to send an allocated number of attendees to each event.

“These resources will be redirected as determined by district directors, county presidents and state committee members,” Bednarski said.

“We appreciate your grace and patience as we make decisions in the best interest of our members’ and organization’s health and safety. Stay tuned for alternate programming announcements and opportunities in January!”

In a Dec. 11 message to county Farm Bureau leaders, MFB President Carl Bednarski broke the bad — but not wholly surprising — news that the organization’s winter 2021 core programs will be canceled to safeguard the health and well-being of members and

Coming Events

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