DETROIT (AP) — The new head of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is moving forward with efforts to boost the state's agriculture exports, encourage job-creation in the food industry and make sure farmers get the support they need amid this year's extreme weather.
Jamie Clover Adams notes, however, that ensuring food safety remains at the core of the department's mission. With more funding for the coming budget year approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder, she said, the department is stepping up those efforts as well.
"It's kind of like one of those invisible things that folks don't really think about," Clover Adams said in a recent telephone interview. "But we are definitely focused on that because that is the core and the underpinnings to the success of the entire sector."
The new budget increases spending for the department to about $70 million and includes nearly $6 million for initiatives supporting increased on-farm environmental protection, food safety and opportunities for regional economic growth. There's also $600,000 for additional staff to work on rural development efforts, assist with economic growth work and support export expansion.
One notable change will be dairy inspections, Clover Adams said, which previously were turned over to industry field representatives in nine central Michigan counties. With about $300,000 in additional funding, a total of 17 state dairy inspectors will be available to inspect all dairy farms and processing plants, the department said.
"We're bringing that back in house," she said. "We'll have the state inspection personnel but we'll also have the industry folks who are still out there."
The focus on food safety makes business sense. Leslie D. Bourquin, a professor and food safety specialist with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, said ensuring food safety is crucial — particularly if the agriculture sector wants to expand trade.
"It's non-negotiable" Bourquin said.
Clover Adams came to the agriculture department this month from the state Department of Environmental Quality, where she was its policy and legislative affairs director. Her experience also includes four years as director of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, from 1999-2003, and she has been drawing on that experience as she gets settled in Michigan's department, which has an expanded economic, social, and educational focus.
"It is about more than just agriculture and food," Clover Adams said. "It's about many other things. And how do we expand on that."
Since starting the job, Clover Adams has met with farmers and others with a stake in the state's agricultural industry. She's also kept an eye on the effects of the extreme weather that's wreaked havoc on crops this year, from an erratic spring that devastated Michigan's tree fruit industry and the hot, dry summer that has hurt Michigan's field crops. The aim is to make sure farmers and others have the resources they need.
Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne H. Wood, who grows corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa and has dairy cows in Sanilac County, said the department made strides under its former director, Keith Creagh, to capitalize on increasing interest in locally produced food and open up opportunities for Michigan farmers to reach new markets. He said Clover Adams is poised to enhance the department's role.
"They have recognized the stewardship of farmers," Wood said. "They have recognized processors that have developed unique products. They have put a lot of effort into assuring the consumer of the quality of Michigan food. They have moved into the export markets to encourage more trade."
Clover Adams has the backing of a governor who embraces the potential for agriculture in Michigan to help boost the economy. One goal is to double the state's agricultural exports. And Clover Adams, like her boss, argues that a key to Michigan expanding trade is to get a second international bridge built across the Detroit River. U.S. and Canadian leaders announced an agreement in June to do just that.
"We need to get the bridge built," Clover Adams said. "That's going to be a huge boon for the food and ag sector. Canada is a large trading partner. It's a gateway to other parts of the world. We need that in agriculture to ship more commodities and ... products out of our state."
Opponents of that plan disagree, however, saying there's already more than enough capacity for trade at the existing Ambassador Bridge.