Michigan farmers talk broadband access, road funding and other topics at annual meet up

Dec 2, 2013

The big, yearly meet up of Michigan farmers is this week in Grand Rapids. The annual Michigan Farm Bureau meeting helps cement policy stances important to agriculture.

There’s dozens of issues up for discussion. Some, like immigration reform and road funding aren’t new issues.

In fact, the poor condition of Michigan’s road was the issue that brought the MFB to fruition back in 1919.

With modern Michigan roads in such bad shape, the issue has come up again. Farmers will discuss how they think the state should raise money to fix the roads; either by using the state's entire 6% sales tax on gas for roads or increasing the Michigan sales tax by 1%.

“I think this will be an interesting debate because not very often is Farm Bureau out there advocating for new taxes,” said Sarah Black, director of public policy and commodity division at MFB.

Governor Rick Snyder has been pressing for changes to road funding in the state legislature. He’ll host a town hall style meeting for farmers Tuesday night.

Black says, yes, the nagging issue of immigration reform is likely to come up again.

“I think it’ll get discussed on the delegate floor because it’s a major issue. It’s unfortunate that it seems like we’ve lost a little bit of momentum at the federal level in terms of Congress’ desire to engage in that topic and try to get it done,” Black said.

Michigan farmers, especially fruit growers on the west half of the state, couldn’t get enough workers this fall. It was so bad, many apples, peaches and pears were not picked and were left to rot on the ground.

This year Black says there’s a lot of talk about technology. New technology is getting integrated in all aspects of agriculture and farmers need broadband internet to become more efficient.

“To make decisions about planting about what types of fertilizer they’re going to use, how much; decisions on what types of seed to use. All of that stuff they rely on technology and need high speed internet no different than any other business and there’s still a lot of areas in the state that are underserved,” black said.

It’s not just farmers ‘up north.’ Black says there’s plenty of places down-state that don’t have high speed internet.

Black says there’s also more technology related issues on the agenda, including data collection and privacy rights.  

The gathering starts Tuesday and wraps up Thursday.