Banking & Finance, Food Service & Agriculture, and Government

Gov. Whitmer emphasizes agriculture in state budget proposal

Double-Up Food Bucks, technology would be most notable investments.

March 29, 2019
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her Fiscal Year 2020 executive budget recommendation earlier this month.

The governor’s budget recommendation of $60.2 billion covers roads, drinking water and wages, but she also has placed an emphasis on growing the state’s second-largest industry: agriculture.

Whitmer is proposing $109.8 million for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for FY 2019-20, which begins Oct. 1.

According to the Michigan Farm Bureau, 58 percent of the agricultural budget will support consumer protections, 17 percent will go toward environmental stewardship, 14 percent will be centered around agriculture development, 8 percent will fund central support services and 3 percent will be reserved for fairs and expositions.

Two of the most notable investments are the Double-Up Food Bucks program and technology in the agricultural industry. In her proposed budget, Whitmer hopes to use $4 million to expand the Double-Up Food Bucks program to all 83 counties. The program currently supports 65 counties and “provides a dollar for dollar match up to $20 per day for those on food assistance to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to Whitmer’s proposed budget.

Jennifer Holton, director of communications for MDARD, said the proposed increase for the Double Up program is a win/win because low-income families bring home more healthy food, area farmers gain new customers and make more money, and more food dollars stay in the local economy.

She said there are 150,000 Michigan residents in the 65 counties who are currently part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and the program operates in 250 sites around the state.

What started as a small Detroit pilot grew into the first statewide program and is today a national model available in 24 states and counting,” Holton said. “Double Up’s proven track record demonstrates that incentives work in all kinds of communities and retail settings while maintaining a strong commitment to local agriculture.”

The budget proposal also offers $5 million for information technology projects that improve government operations such as licensing and inspection systems. According to Holton, the technology investment will ensure food safety, human and animal health through licensing, inspections, compliance assistance and enforcement.

There are 80,000 inspections done each year and approximately 63,000 violations were recorded in fiscal year 2018.

“Majority of (the) current systems are outdated or approaching end of useful life,” Holton said. “Access to data is constantly threatened by system availability. (The) current systems cannot accommodate the needs of (the) industry; innovations are evolving industry standards.”

The fund would help to procure an online portal for customers, which would eliminate a paper-based process and old IT systems. The licensing portal would allow for online access for customers to apply, print licenses and check the status.

According to Holton, the funds would allow creation of a data warehouse to store information. The warehouse would create data aggregation, across all programs, which would help staff to become more proactive. It would “improve response capabilities regarding emerging contaminants, improve financial reconciliation capabilities and eliminate long-standing audit findings.”

While there is a proposed increase in funding for the industry, the governor has elected to impose some reductions and elimination of funding in her proposed budget.

She wants to reduce the 2019-20 budget funding for the food and agriculture investment program, county fairs, shows and exhibitions grants.

Whitmer also wants to eliminate the animal agriculture initiative grant, the dairy industry assistance program, the agriculture industry research and development grant, the ACRE agriculture incubator grant and ODC Network-project clarity grant.

Michigan roads are vital in transporting goods from the farm to their final destination, whether it is on store shelves or processing plants. So that is why the governor’s budget plans to “generate $2.5 million in new annual revenue, which will be deposited into a new fixing Michigan roads fund” are a welcomed investment by the agricultural industry.

The Agricultural Leaders of Michigan, a coalition of agricultural, commodity and agribusiness leaders, said after the governor’s first State of the State address, they applauded her for placing an emphasis on improving the state’s rail system, roads and bridges to ensure the safe, efficient movement of agricultural inputs and production.

“Critical infrastructure, like rail, roads and bridges, and water, utilities, broadband and even wastewater treatment are essential to Michigan’s agriculture industry,” ALM stated. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for putting infrastructure at the top of her administration’s priority list for 2019 and beyond. A thriving agriculture industry depends on up-to-date infrastructure, and we look forward to working with the governor, state agencies and key stakeholders to fix our roads and improve every facet of Michigan’s aging infrastructure.”

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