Economy takes toll on Michigan's local program - The Packer

Economy takes toll on Michigan's local program

06/28/2010 12:15:25 PM
Ashley Bentley

BYRON CENTER, Mich. — The state’s Select Michigan program to promote locally grown and produced products didn’t make it through another round of budget cuts at the Michigan Department of Agriculture this year.

The program’s funding was cut off, and Christine Lietzau, program manager, was let go before the start of the year. However, the logo may still make its way onto some retail shelves this year.

If a company already had an existing Memorandum of Understanding with the department to use the Select Michigan trademark prior to the program being mothballed, they may still use it, said Jennifer Holton, public information officer for the department.

“We’re disappointed the state budget pressure caused that to be unfunded,” said Frank Bragg, chief executive officer of MBG Marketing, Grand Junction. “But they made the logo available, and we will continue to use it.”

The department is not licensing the logo for any new use.

Agriculture has a strong hold as the No. 2 industry in the state of Michigan, and the economic recession’s effect on the automobile industry has brought agriculture as close as it’s been to the No. 1 spot in recent history.

Growers and shippers in the state are having a hard time seeing the logic in cutting funding to one of the state’s leading sources of revenue.

“When I graduated, you could go to work in any of 50 industries in this area,” said Russell Costanza, owner of Russell Costanza Farms, Sodus.

The agriculture industry is one of the few that has stuck around, even though it’s lost many of its participants. Costanza said there used to be 13 farms on the country road he lives and farms from, but that he is the only one left.

“There has certainly been a lot of frustration with everything from our inspection programs to promotion programs,” said Jamie Zmitko-Somers, international marketing program manager for the department. “The Michigan economy is not in the best situation.”

Zmitko-Somers said the department’s executives are still working hard with the state’s legislature and with its governor, Jennifer Granholm, to secure funding and represent the agriculture industry.

Granholm is in her last term as governor, and many of the state’s growers are looking forward to a change in the political scene.

“Our governor is not very pro-ag,” said Dave Miedema, president of E. Miedema & Sons Inc. “That’ll all end this fall.”

New programs

Despite cuts in some areas, the department is actually expanding its reach in others. In August, the department is hosting an education session on exporting to the Caribbean for interested growers, packers, shippers, processors, brokers and anyone else along the way. Representatives from the region will be in the state to speak at the session and meet suppliers.

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