Elected officials representing county, state and federal-level governments took part in a Berrien County farm tour Aug. 1 spotlighting the diversity and importance of local agriculture.
Farm stops highlighted livestock, row crop, and fruit and vegetable production; a winery stop further drove home the area’s farming diversity and the importance of value-added agricultural processing.
Attending were representatives from the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, Dist. 79 State Rep. Pauline Wendzel, and staff members from the offices of Dist. 21 State Sen. Kim LaSata and Dist. 78 State Rep. Brad Paquette.
Participants learned firsthand from farmers about the challenges they face managing their businesses. Representatives of several farm-friendly agencies shared their insights as well.
The first stop was Seldom Rest Farms, an Angus show cattle business owned by Scott, Andrew and Bruce Foster. The Fosters explained the importance of the exhibition sector helping develop ag’s future by involving youth interest.
Next came Berrien's vital fruit and vegetable sector, at Bixby Farms. Owner Bryan Bixby shared how he services those in fresh produce sales, how growing and sourcing multiple crops plays in his success; how being able to supply different products helps gain and retain customers.
The last stop was Gravity Winery, where owner Rockie Rick explained the winemaking process. The visitors saw how the harsh winter still poses challenges and how they combat those challenges with alternative production practices to help sustaining their business.
Bixby, Foster and Rick are all members of the Berrien County Farm Bureau.
“It’s important to recognize farm operators who open their operations up to host tours like this,” said Berrien County Farm Bureau President Ed Kretchman. “Tours like this allow elected officials to put their feet on the ground to see the technologies used to help farms remain viable; see how weather impacts our crops and pocketbooks; and the approaches we use to maintain our niche and earn a living.
“Elected officials at every level are pulled in multiple directions by a multitude of interests,” Kretchman said. “Whenever we can get them to take the time to listen and see what, how and why we do what we do, they put a face to what may otherwise be a faceless industry. It leads to building that relationship and opening a line of communication.”
Also helping coordinate the event were the Berrien Conservation District, Greenstone Farm Credit Services and Michigan State University Extension.
“This is a great example of the many different resources for farmers coming together to help support the agriculture industry,” said MSU Extension District Director Julie Pioch about the partnership. “It’s important to highlight the successes and challenges farming has in Berrien County, as that it is a vital economic driver.”
“Extension is a resource for farmers—as a support system for agriculture, we wanted to help create a better understanding of agriculture for our local elected officials,” said Beth Ferry, MSU Extension educator.