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Michigan farmers demonstrate incredible resilience throughout COVID-19, subsequent economic fallout

“Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness,” Bednarski said. Image credit: Michigan Farm Bureau

Michigan farmers dealing with the hurdles of COVID-19, amid the normal challenges of production agriculture — including weather, markets and labor — redefined the term “resilience” in 2020 and 2021, according to Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski, a Tuscola County farmer.

During his annual address to Farm Bureau members attending the organization’s 102nd annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, Bednarski said that resilience will need to continue in 2022, as farmers face higher input costs and serious supply chain challenges for equipment, parts, herbicides and fertilizers.

“We all are aware of the supply chain bottleneck,” Bednarski said. “According to Freightos Index, the average cost of shipping a standard metal shipping container from China to the West Coast hit $20,856 in September, nearly double what it cost in July, which was twice what it cost in January.”

As of mid-November, Bednarski said there were 88 container ships waiting offshore to unload at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with more than 250,000 containers.

With the rate of inflation hitting 6.2%, the highest in 31 years, Bednarski noted that many of the organization’s young farmers weren’t even born yet when inflation was this high.

“I am very concerned how all this is affecting your farms, whether it’s inputs, spare parts, equipment, or labor,” Bednarski said.

“As President John F. Kennedy said, ‘The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.’”

Members drive ag legislative success

Bednarksi commended members for taking full advantage of MFB’s “Farm Texting Program” that allows members to respond quickly to legislative action requests, noting over 10,000 members made more than 13,400 contacts with legislators advocating on agriculture’s behalf.

“We needed your help in pushing back on attempts to regulate crop protection tools such as Glyphosate, Atrazine, keeping stepped-up basis, opposing efforts to revise the capital gains tax, and to show support for broadband expansion across rural Michigan — and you delivered,” Bednarski said.

Bednarksi thanked Sen. Kevin Daley for sponsoring legislation to reauthorize the state’s voluntary Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP); and the legislative support of Reps. Tom Albert, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Julie Alexander, chair of the House Ag Committee.

Bednarski also credited Farm Bureau members for their concerted efforts to ensure MAEAP was successfully reauthorized and remained voluntary.

“We never thought it would be such a challenge to get it reauthorized with no changes or additional funding. Remember, you pay for a majority of this voluntary program’s cost through fees on fertilizer and pesticides,” Bednarski added.

“The pressure was on to add additional required practices and to make MAEAP a mandatory program for production agriculture. Here again, Michigan Farm Bureau members rose to the challenge and made sure legislators didn’t change the voluntary program that has successfully verified over 6,000 farms, with many more working through the verification process.”

Turning to ongoing labor challenges, Bednarski said the issue has only worsened since the onset of the pandemic, threatening labor availability for producers and processors throughout the food supply system.

According to Bednarski, member interest in MFB-affiliate company Great Lakes Ag Labor Services is on a steady growth curve. GLALS offers administrative services to growers interested in utilizing H-2A seasonal ag workers to resolve labor shortages in harvesting specialty crops.

“We have seen the demand for this service explode recently, and it’s not just farmers looking for workers but processors who are interested in learning more, and we see requests coming from across the nation,” Bednarski added.

Fighting hunger in Michigan

Finally, Bednarski remarked on the incredible generosity of MFB members, county Farm Bureaus and Farm Bureau Insurance Agents through their Agent Charitable Fund over the last two years in helping to fight hunger in Michigan.

“Through matching grants with the Agent Charitable Fund, county Farm Bureaus distributed $45,000 to local food banks in 17 counties in 2021,” Bednarski said.

For the second year in a row, Bednarski noted the organization held another successful Million Meal Challenge raising $203,730, representing a total of 1,018,650 meals through the Family of Companies and the Agent Charitable Fund.

All funds raised were donated to the Food Bank Council of Michigan, which supports and serves the seven regional food banks, striving to make Michigan a food-secure state.

"As the number of families struggling with hunger continues to grow, in both urban and rural areas, it’s reassuring to know that our agents, employees, county leaders and members are all committed to working toward a common goal of ending childhood hunger in Michigan," Bednarski said.

Hinting at bigger things to come, Bednarski said the organization will soon be launching a “For-Purpose” initiative, calling it a game-changer in the challenge to eradicating childhood hunger in Michigan.

“Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness,” Bednarski said. “If there is anything that I have seen our membership, our organization and our Family of Companies do — consistently and successfully — it has been the ability to recover quickly and build upon what has made us successful for the last 102 years.”

Date Posted: December 1, 2021