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Diversifying Michigan agribusiness is a cornerstone to economic growth

Publish Date: Monday, October 12, 2009

On Tuesday, September 29th, experts in food and agribusiness from around the state dissected the current status and future outlook of agribusiness in Michigan at MSU's Kellogg center.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) initiated this special meeting of the agriculture and food business industry in an effort to discuss unique opportunities for expanding agribusiness in Michigan.

Kicking off the day, Don Koivisto, the MDA director, said, "in short, we want to continue our momentum in growing Michigan's agriculture. We do believe that there is still a lot of room for ceaseless growth to overcome this economic downturn."
The agricultural industry is the state's second-largest economic driver, making a total of $71.3 billion annually. This means Michigan's agricultural economy has expanded five times faster than the rate of the general economy (11.9 percent versus 2 percent) between 2006 and 2007.

Michigan produces more than 200 commodities on a commercial basis, second only to California in agricultural diversity. The state leads the nation in the production of 19 commodities including tart cherries, blueberries and three kinds of dry beans (black, cranberry and small red).

Several agendas for the symposium were unveiled through an industry panel discussion on "Opportunities and Challenges" with many engaging sessions. Panel groups consisted of four speakers, including Tom Kalchik of the MSU Product Center, Jon Woodworth representing General Mills/Yoplait Division, Bruce Kratt the Director of Sales and Marketing from Hudsonville, and Howdy Homes President of the Chelsea Milling Ice Cream Co.

Apart from optimism and passion with regards to the viability of the industry, challenges and hardships that the entire industry would face were also mentioned. Several attendees pointed out there is a need for effort from the government side. Also, threats are derived from the continuously shrinking population and geographical disadvantages in product distribution.

"Most of all, I want to suggest the department make bigger steps in promoting business within the state of Michigan whether they tell people inside or outside of Michigan," said Jan Van Driessche, National Marketing Representative of North Bay Produce, Inc.

Through the discussions, attendees ascertained that Michigan agriculture is dynamic and holds tremendous potential for the future. Panels and attendees agreed on the idea to tap into the innovative spirit, abundant resources and unbridled work ethic of our industries. This is needed to capture new markets, create new products and expand aggressively to meet the needs of consumers and industry.