GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Farm Bureau is holding its annual meeting in Grand Rapids this week to discuss the most important issues facing the agriculture industry.

“Michigan agriculture is actually also the second leading economy in the state. That’s both direct and indirect, so all the associated industries that feed into that,” Matt Smego of the Michigan Farm Bureau said. “So it is something that is important to all Michiganders. Whether you live or work on a farm or just like to go to the grocery store and eat, we all have interest in agriculture.”

At the meeting held at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids, more than 400 farmers representing more than 40,000 farms are talking about and voting on the policies that they feel are most important.

“It all starts at the grassroots level, at our county level,” Smego explained. “(Farm Bureau members are) going to be talking about some issues that are important this next year in 2023, particularly the (federal) Farm Bill. The Farm Bill will be expiring in 2023 and we will need to have some direction for our senators and our congressional representatives as to what Michigan farmers’ needs are going into that discussion.”

He said two main areas of focus are risk management and food and nutrition programs for the general population.

“Michigan is blessed. We’ve got over 300 different commodities that are grown in the state. We are second in our diversity of types of products grown, second only to California. So when you think about the fruits and vegetables that you get at a local farmer’s market on the grocery shelf, a lot of those are growing right here in Michigan,” Smego said. “When you think about the issues with such diversity, it’s not dissimilar to other industries: Labor continues to be a challenge for our farmers.”

He said the bureau is looking at ensuring the agricultural work force has the right education and technical experience, research and technology development and automation options.