Michigan Growers Unite

Michigan Growers Unite

On a warm evening on October 19th, 2004, a group of Michigan greenhouse growers met at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU). The meeting was jointly hosted by the Western Michigan Greenhouse Association and the Metro Detroit Flower Growers Association, then under the leadership of Steve Zylstra and Tony Raney, respectively. The meeting was facilitated by Gale Arent, who was the director of stakeholder relations for MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of forming a statewide organization with the responsibility of representing the floriculture grower community on state and national legislative issues and public policy topics. I was privileged to be a member of the group that evening, and the rest is history, so to speak.

The group clearly recognized the need for representation in legislative matters. Zylstra and Raney reported that their organizations were repeatedly drawn into legal issues that they had no resources to deal with. The painful experience of the Ralstonia incident was fresh in everyone’s minds. On a trip to Washington, D.C., Zylstra and Raney were continuously asked, “Who from your organization can we contact back in Michigan?” The answer was nobody. From such beginnings, the idea for the Michigan Floriculture Growers Council (MFGC) was born, and operations officially began in January 2006. Arent became the first executive director and continues in that role.

Approaching the end of its second year in operation, the MFGC has very quickly established itself as a credible voice for greenhouse growers in the state capital of Lansing. Much of the credit for our success goes to Arent, who possesses an impressive combination of floriculture industry knowledge and government savvy that he applies in a very effective, personable manner. Through his efforts, MFGC is known to all the key senators and representatives in the Michigan legislature, as well as to Michigan’s Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. We have joined forces with the Society of American Florists (SAF), the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA), Michigan Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations on issues of mutual concern and presented our position to key legislators.

We’ve advocated for research funding for MSU horticulture projects. We’ve presented Michigan floriculture as a thriving, growing industry in a state with one of the worst unemployment rates in the country. When another situation like Ralstonia occurs, we can mobilize very quickly to represent the needs of the floriculture community in the state and at the national level, if needed.

The members of the board recognize the role of government in our businesses is not going to get less important with time; having a strong voice for grower interests is essential in today’s business environment. We’re actively involved in issues such as energy conservation, renewable energy, gas drilling, immigration reform, water rights, taxation and regulation of pests, diseases and invasive plants. We’re presenting a case for grower reimbursement for government-mandated plant destruction or quarantine (similar to a program that reimburses farmers for mandated destruction of diseased animals) in the next Farm Bill. We’re supporting and asking for legislation that provides incentive to invest in energy conservation measures and renewable energy technology for our greenhouses.

Working with MSU, we obtained a grant from USDA to identify strategies to reduce greenhouse energy costs and coordinated a series of seminars across the state to provide this information to growers. We are now present at agricultural gatherings throughout the legislative year to promote awareness of the significant size and scope of floriculture in Michigan.

The Michigan Floriculture Growers Council has been supported generously by a sizeable list of founding members, and we continue to add new members. We’ve recently begun our 2008 Membership Campaign and encourage all Michigan growers to join MFGC to add their voices to those of their fellow growers. For more information on the MFGC, please visit www.mifgc.org.

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