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.”
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.
“The Caribbean is a big market for Michigan apples, and there may be some new potential in that area,” Zmitko-Somers said.
Michigan’s export access is through Miami, she said.
The department plans to do a follow-up trade mission to the Caribbean in 2011.
Before all of that, though, the state is bring back a bi-annual event that brings more than 20 international buyers to the state to meet with suppliers.
The event — set up through the Food Export Association of the Midwest, Chicago — should bring 24 buyers to East Lansing July 26 to participate in 30-minute meetings with interested suppliers.
In years past, processors have been the main participants in this program, but there are opportunities for the fresh side, as well, Zmitko-Somers said.
A few new trade shows are on the department’s schedule this year, too.
In October it’s using specialty crop block grant funding to participate in the Americas Food & Beverage Show in Miami. The Michigan Apple Committee plans to exhibit in the booth, along with a number of fruit processors, and possible some representatives from the Michigan vegetable industry, Zmitko-Somers said.
The show brings in buyers from the Caribbean, South and Central America and Mexico, all emerging markets for Michigan fruit and vegetables, she said.
In Michigan, the department is also hosting a booth at the Michigan Grocers Show for the first time this year. It is continuing its participation in the Michigan Restaurant Show, but is trying to do more chef demonstrations than it has in the past.
“Last year, we brought chefs in to use different types of fruits and vegetables to prepare some different food items,” Zmitko-Somers said. “We’re trying to show attendees and chefs some different options of how they can incorporate Michigan produce into their menus.”
Both of those shows are open to produce companies that would like to participate. There is a cost, but the department is giving discounts to fruit and vegetable companies to try to expand their participation.
The Select Michigan logo remains on some of the department’s signage and promotional materials, but Zmitko-Somers said it is not being used on any new materials.
In addition to continuing its use of the Select Michigan logo in certain cases, MBG Marketing is a strong supporter of retailer-specific locally grown programs and works with Wal-Mart, Meijer and Kroger, specifically, on their campaigns.
“From a promotion perspective, it’s one of the newer trends in the last few years,” Bragg said.