By Kellie Rowe
As MSU animal science sophomore Andrea Block gazed across her 160-acre farm in Davison, Mich. on her weekend visit home, she wondered just how long her childhood farm can stay financially afloat.
After unusual weather caused an early thaw resulting in drought this past summer, the Block farm saw a number of damaging effects, including a dramatic increase in hay expenses from about $4 to $15 a bale.
“It’s really expensive for farmers to keep their animals,” Block said. “That’s why so many people are getting rid of their horses. Farmers aren’t making the money back after buying animals.”
Block is one of many Michigan farmers affected by the early thaw and freeze in April and this past summer’s drought, and as some farmers turn to the government for help, the political support of agricultural assistance can become a major factor in the decision of which politician to vote for in the upcoming fall elections.
Last Thursday, the Michigan Farm Bureau announced its endorsement of Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow for reelection on a conference call with the bureau’s president, Wayne Wood, and Stabenow herself.
“Over the years, Stabenow has been a consistent supporter of agriculture,” Wood said. “(She is) in the best position to continue advocating for agriculture across the nation.”
As chairwoman of the Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition Committee, Stabenow provided support for the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 , more commonly-known as the Farm Bill. The policy aims to create farming jobs, decrease unnecessary spending by $23 billion, monitor food assistance abuse more heavily and provides relief for farmers experiencing the negative effects of this year’s drought and freeze, according to a release from the Office of Debbie Stabenow.
Although the Farm Bill was passed by a bipartisan vote of 64-35 in Senate, the policy is struggling to make it through the House of Representatives. Stabenow hopes to pass the five-year bill before the current Farm Bill terminates Sept. 30.
Jill Cords, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources field career services coordinator and advisor of the MSU Collegiate Farm Bureau, said the Michigan Farm Bureau, or MFB, considers input from members from each local county farm bureau regarding the evaluation of local candidates.
“I feel confident that the MFB Agri-Pac committee evaluated all of the candidates (effectively) based on recommendations from farm bureau members in the local counties, (including Ingham County),” she said.
Wood said members of local counties conversed and gave approval for Stabenow’s support.
Stabenow thanked the MFB for the support and cited her childhood growing up in rural Michigan as the cause of her “strong voice for agriculture.”
The senator said nearly one in four jobs in Michigan is connected to agriculture, as well as more than 16 million jobs nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Labour, about 4,630 Michigan residents are currently employed in a farming, fishing or forestry occupation.
“If we’re going to have a strong economy in Michigan, or in the country for that matter, we have to grow things and make things,” Stabenow said.
According to the Office of Debbie Stabenow release, the Farm Bill allows farmers without proper access to crop insurance to purchase coverage from the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
Cords said she experienced the negative effects of this summer’s extreme heat at her farm back home, as her pasture dried up for her cattle, causing the need to dip into the hay she normally reserved for the cattle in the winter. She said the drought also hurt some corn and soybean crops, causing lower yields and less bushels of corn to sell.
“On the upside, the price has gone up, but we are not sure if it will balance out the loss of yields,” she said, adding this is a major concern for farmers across the state.
Stabenow also referenced the agriculture voting habits of former congressman Pete Hoekstra of Holland, her Republican opponent in the race for senator, and the pair’s opposing opinions.
“We do have different philosophies in terms of how to support agriculture,” she said, adding Hoeskstra did not vote in favor of the 2002 or 2007 Farm Bill.
Block said although she is unsure of Hoeskstra’s position on agricultural issues, she approves of Stabenow’s ambitions to help Michigan farmers.
“She seems like a good choice (for Senate), but we’ll see if the Farm Bill goes into action anytime soon,” she said.
Wood said although the MFB was pleased to see the Farm Bill pass through the Senate, the fight to keep agriculture at the forefront of the political agenda is far from over.
“There is still much work to be done, and the Michigan Farm Bureau feels Stabenow is the best candidate to see that through,” he said.