Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Sustainability

New alliance offers assistance to agribusiness industry

Organization hopes to teach the newer generations how the business is changing.

January 22, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Phil Grashoff was on Mackinac Island last fall attending the Michigan Agri-Business Association Outlook Conference when he realized the industry was splintered.

Because of the agribusiness industry’s history of individualization and sole proprietorships, Grashoff, an environmental attorney with Kotz Sangster, decided to bring together a group of companies in an effort to bring uniformity to the industry and help with the issues it faces.

The Southwest & West Michigan Agribusiness Alliance was set up to provide those involved in agribusiness — be it producers, processors, suppliers, etc. — the auxiliary services they might require to be successful in the modern economy.

For this purpose, the alliance also includes outside businesses that can help manage problems within the industry, such as the Kotz Sangster law firm for legal services and Rehmann for business services. Grashoff hopes to get the outside firms and the agribusiness sector to work together to tackle rising issues.

“There is such a history of individualization and sole proprietorships, and now they’re coming under significant focus at the present time and they aren’t used to it,” Grashoff said. “There is a role this group can play in assisting agribusinesses with the kind of problems they have, be it at the federal or state level, or selling a farm, or ensuring the waste water is compatible with their permit.”

The alliance is in its infancy and the benefits of membership are relatively unknown outside of the internal referral system, which already has netted Grashoff two assignments, he said. He hopes the overall marketing of the alliance will make all the members the go-to firms for each service in the agribusiness sector.

A lot of the services are needed more now than in the past, as new regulations continue to be placed on the industry and doing business becomes more complex.

“A lot of these issues are some that haven’t had to be paid attention to in the past,” Grashoff said. “A lot of what we’re seeing is there are a lot of exemptions, and regulators are becoming very hardnosed on those exemptions where they used to allow some flexibility.”

Individual agribusinesses used to be able to figure out the best way to skirt the regulations and took on an “individualistic attitude” in their work with outside parties. One such regulation now clamping down on the agriculture industry is the Food Safety Modernization Act from the Food and Drug Administration, a series of stricter regulations to ensure food safety in the United States.

A major goal of the alliance is to get past the “heritage issues” of how things have always been done in the agriculture world and teach the newer generations how the direction of business is changing and becoming more difficult, time consuming and expensive.

Even larger producers and processors need help, Grashoff said, giving as examples how in-counsel lawyers often need assistance, and labs might not have the capabilities to perform certain tests. To help figure out what larger companies in the agriculture sector might need, Grashoff and other alliance members are setting up meetings with several major producers and processors.

In May, the alliance will host a conference at the Lake Michigan College campus in Benton Harbor to focus on some of the issues at hand.

“It was always particularized on a single farm or processor, and it was kind of like there were blinders on and no one was looking at the whole picture,” Grashoff said. “Now we’re out here doing this broad-based approach to representation and solving agribusiness problems.

“We have great focus and we intend to make this thing really take off.” 

Southwest & West Michigan Agribusiness Alliance

  • Kotz Sangster — legal services 
  • Rehmann — business services
  • New Age Landmark — laboratory services
  • The Right Place — economic development
  • Wightman & Associates — engineering and surveying
  • Lakeshore Environmental  — environmental consulting
  • Spartan Insurance Agency — insurance
  • Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. — risk management
  • Conway MacKenzie — restructuring
  • Bank of America — lending 
  • Boileau Communications Management — marketing and communications

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