By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – State officials began accepting applications last week from farmers and agricultural processors for the Michigan Agricultural Safety Grant Program, made possible with federal CARES Act funding to the tune of $15 million.
On July 1, Gov. Whitmer signed senate bill 690 allocating $10 million in grant funding for eligible agricultural processors and $5 million in grant funding for eligible farms. The safety grant program was meant to support the implementation of COVID-19 monitoring and mitigation strategies to protect agricultural employees and the state’s overall food production industry.
The program is first come, first served; it’s not a competitive grant. That means that as people apply, money is going out. According to Greenstone Farm Credit Services CEO Dave Armstrong, 60 percent of the allocated dollars have already been applied for along with 50 percent of the allocated dollars for farmers.
“We thought there would be high demand for the program given the pandemic,” Armstrong said. “In the first couple days we had at least a couple hundred applications. I would encourage any processor or farmer to complete an application and get a place in line. Once you’re in line, you’re in line.”
Greenstone is responsible for receiving electronic applications, which it reviews and, if everything is deemed proper, sends the applications on to the Michigan Economic Development Corp (MEDC), which further reviews applications and then doles out money.
Southwest Michigan vegetable grower Fred Leitz said last week he was aware of the program and had started an application, but had been too busy to complete it as of last Thursday. The first day of applications was Wednesday, July 15. He said he was planning on finishing and submitting the application soon. Leitz estimates he will spend an estimated $25,000 on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, thermometers, hand sanitizer, extra towels and other items, along with temporary housing for employees who work for him during growing season. He employs about 240 people on his farm each year.
“The grower community appreciates the program,” Leitz said. “Yes, I’m going to finish the application. Where else could I get an extra $25,000?”
The MEDC’s Chief Operating Officer Amanda Bright McClanahan, said that the ag safety grant program is brand new and was designed specifically to help processors and farmers cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re trying to encourage multiple strategies to help employers who use migrant labor, both farmers and processors,” she said. “We’ve asked the agricultural industry to do a lot over the past few months. There’s a lot of need out there.”
Although farmer and processor interest in the program has been intense, McClanahan said she didn’t want to discourage people from applying. Although the application is reasonably straightforward, she said, everything has to be reviewed and one shouldn’t assume that just because someone’s applied and asked for a grant that it will be awarded. Like Armstrong, she encouraged people to apply as quickly as possible and get in the queue.
The Michigan Farm Bureau’s Farm Safety Manager Craig Anderson said he’s been busy doing training sessions with employees of processors and farms to help people adopt new ways of doing things on the job. Protocols and procedures have changed frequently in a short period of time, Anderson said. It takes a significant amount of training to get employees to adopt new practices and that training costs money, he explained; this training could be paid for under the grant program. Anderson also said it costs $100 to test one person for COVID-19 and that would also be an eligible item.
“One of the benefits of the grant is that it is fairly broad as to eligible items, including isolation housing,” Anderson stated. “There is a reluctance on the part of commercial housing establishments to offer this kind of housing. This whole process can be complicated and a little contentious. Almost every employer I talk to wants to know, ‘how do I protect my employees?’
For more information or an application visit www.michiganbusiness.org/about-medc/covid19/agsafety/