Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today met with West Michigan farmers, agribusiness owners, and other agricultural leaders at a forum at May Farms in Sparta.
Local farmers and agriculture leaders discussed with Senator Stabenow and Secretary Vilsack some of the exciting things happening in areas like biofuels, food processing, fruits and vegetables (also known as specialty crops) and bio-based manufacturing. Agriculture supports one out of every four jobs in the state, bringing in more than $71 billion a year. Secretary Vilsack also provided an update about his work as chair of the White House's Rural Council to promote economic growth in the state's rural communities.
"Michigan grows more fruits and vegetables than any other state, producing some of the highest quality crops in the world," Senator Stabenow said. "The excellence of our growers represents significant opportunity for jobs and economic growth. Michigan is leading in areas like food processing, bio-based manufacturing and food exports. We need to focus on strengthening our agriculture sector and empowering farmers and business leaders to help them continue growing and prospering."
In 2008, Senator Stabenow announced the first-ever specialty crops title in the 2008 Farm Bill at May Farms, which recognized and supported the extraordinary diversity of Michigan agriculture. With the exception of California, Michigan leads the nation in crop diversity, growing and producing more than 200 unique commodities.
"The Obama Administration is focused on creating good-paying jobs in the Midwest and across America that help businesses grow and communities thrive," said Secretary Vilsack. "We know that the best ideas come from the American people, so I am glad that Senator Stabenow gave me this opportunity to hear directly from Michigan residents about their ideas, so we can continue to put people back to work and grow our economy."
"I was thrilled to host this forum with the Senator and Secretary," Jim May, Owner of May Farms said. "Senator Stabenow always listens to what is going on and was there for us in the fruit industry when things were tough a few years ago. She is a strong supporter of agriculture. I am also so honored to be the one to host the Secretary of Agriculture in West Michigan."
Farmers also discussed the impact that food processing has on Michigan's economy, and its potential to continue generating jobs. Across the state, food processing accounts for more than 40,000 jobs and contributes nearly $15 billion to the economy. Senator Stabenow noted that Michigan has long been a leader in "making and growing things" and noted that food processing is an area that's poised to grow, alongside bio-based manufacturing.
Michigan currently has more than 80 companies manufacturing bio-based products and even more using bio-based materials in their products. These products include cleaning products, soaps, insulation, plastics, foam products, and fabrics. Manufacturing accounts for roughly a quarter of rural private sector earnings, and accounts for more than 1 in 10 rural jobs. Senator Stabenow said that agriculture and manufacturing are at the heart of any economy -- they created the middle class and are the lifeblood of rural America.