EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan might be better known for its manufacturing muscle, but agriculture isn't exactly small potatoes: It generates $91.4 billion for the state's economy, and the state ranks at or near the top of the list nationally in production of tart cherries, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, apples, beans, carrots and geraniums. (When it comes to potatoes, it ranks ninth, but spuds are Michigan's leading produce crop.)
The state got to show off a little of its agri-mojo earlier this month, when President Barack Obama signed the sweeping federal farm bill at Michigan State University — appropriately flanked by smiling politicians, two tractors and a gravity wagon for unloading crops.
Here are five things to know about the impact of the nearly $100-billion-a-year law on Michigan:
1. STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY
Federal officials say Michigan ranks second in the U.S. in terms of crop diversity, behind only California. It's also a leader in specialty crops, such as apples, cherries and sugar beets. That makes the state a larger target for funding, since the law extends crop insurance to specialty growers, and increases research funding related to many of those crops.
1. DAIRY DELIGHT
Longtime dairy farmer Ken Nobis said he attended the Feb. 7 bill signing at Michigan State University to "celebrate" what he viewed as a "big step forward" for the state's largest agricultural product. Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association, said the law establishes an "effective safety net" in the event of "catastrophic conditions." The new protections, he said, will prevent drastic price swings for consumers.
3. GREAT LAKES STAKE
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the farm bill's author and chief champion, said the bill streamlines and strengthens conservation efforts, and the Great Lakes could stand to gain through increased funding for top priorities. The law consolidates four programs into one that will support projects — through a competitive grant process — aimed at improving water and soil quality, and wildlife habitat. Gary Overmier, who oversees the agriculture pollution reduction for the Great Lakes Commission, said it's "exciting" to have a more structured program that reduces bureaucracy and brings together like-minded conservation efforts.
4. SPARTAN NATION
Michigan State made sense as the site for the signing because it's a pioneering U.S. land-grant college that was founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. Tradition is important, but innovation at the East Lansing school is what's getting notice from the feds: Both Stabenow and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the school a leader in bio-based research and development. The law is chock-full of money for research into such areas, and Vilsack says his department has already invested roughly $175 million into projects at the university.
5. A SENATOR'S SUCCESS:
It was a hard road to hoe, but Stabenow helped broker the hard-fought farm bill compromise after years of setbacks. Her fingerprints are all over the bill, including a "Grow it Here, Make it Here" program that aims to boost manufacturing using raw products grown in the U.S. The Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee kept a laser-like focus on the legislation in a Congress normally not known for bipartisanship, and her reward was Obama's visit to her alma mater.
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