By Kevin Walker
STOCKBRIDGE, Mich. – A new agriculture group just announced in Michigan is aiming to do something just a little bit different; it’s called Michigan Agriculture Advancement (MiAA).
The advocacy group, announced on Aug. 25, is headed up by longtime Michigan agriculture leader Tim Boring, a farmer of row crops and small grains in Stockbridge, about 40 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. Most recently Boring has served as vice president of the Michigan Agribusiness Association. He holds a doctorate in crop and soil sciences from Michigan State University. In describing the goals of the new organization, Boring likes to use the term resiliency. It seems similar to sustainability, but with a focus on farms, farming and farmers, not just on the environment.
“It seems to me that we have some deficiencies in the way that we manage farm viability,” Boring stated. “The economics are dictating a lot of decisions in the short term, rather than long-term decision making. The goal of this group is to build back in resiliency. We have to look at this from a multi-generational perspective. It’s about getting more out of the land that you own, not just getting more land.”
Boring would like to see farmers grow more of what he terms “food” for local buyers rather than traditional commodities for foreign export. The problem with the focus on growing commodities, he says, is there is only a small profit margin and this leads farmers toward trying to get bigger and achieving economies of scale. Super large farms that produce only row crops are not sustainable from an environmental, agricultural or rural perspective, he believes.
According to one of the group’s project statements, farmers are not making much, if any, money off of the few key commodity crops upon which they rely. This type of farming is leading to the degradation of both water and soil quality and contributing to climate change. A small but growing group of producers, academics and agribusinesses are moving toward improving soil health in order to improve economic sustainability. Boring calls it a paradigm shift. Among other changes, he would like to see more Community Supported Agriculture farms, more organic operations and more farm operations that rely on local supply chains, including local institutional buyers and local end users.
According to Boring, institutional buyers of food care about the quality of the product they provide to their clientele. Establishing more local food supply chains is going to require better communications between farmers, buyers of food and others in that supply chain.
“Organic and local production can help to bring more trust into this system,” he explained. “A lot of these pieces become interconnected really quickly. There are parts of society that want to see some changes like this. I think there’s an opportunity for people to get into raising food for local consumption without the really huge capital investment. This could be a path forward for rural communities.”
One of MiAA’s projects is no small task: to revitalize Michigan’s food system to find solutions and “synergies” at the intersection of agriculture, water quality and climate change. It wants to build new state-wide, cross-sector networks as well as connect innovative and adaptive farmers across the state.
“Michigan’s strong consumer base is a real advantage,” Boring added. The MiAA has received funding from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation for this project. To find out more about MiAA, visit https://miagadvance.org/.