MABA Grows in Role
The countryside is doing very well with every segment of agricultural production prospering, says Jim Byrum, president of the East Lansing-based Michigan Agri-Business Association, also known as MABA.
“You know what they say? If a farmer has a dollar in his pocket he’ll try to spend two,” chuckles Byrum.
As result of the good times, farmland prices are up across the state, indicating the growing value of fertile soil, Byrum says. Michigan cropland rose in value by 6.1 percent last year over 2010 levels to an average of $3,500 per acre, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Experts predict those prices will continue to rise this year marking five straight years of farmland value increases, which goes against the trend of property value decreases in more urban areas.
“There is profit in agriculture. There is demand for commodities, so farmers want to buy or lease more farmland, which drives up demand,” Byrum emphasizes.
Byrum grew up on his family’s farm near Onondaga and was raised in the same house where his grandfather was born in 1889. He stayed close to his agriculture roots while working for Monsanto and then a commodities group selling dried beans all over the world. Today, he leads a nonprofit organization of approximately 500 members who contribute to the supply side of agriculture in the state.
“Our membership includes companies that supply things to farms to produce a commodity. They manufacture and distribute weed and pest control products, handle grain, sell livestock feed and supply lots of services, like transportation,” Byrum says. “We act as the eyes and ears for those groups in Lansing.”
The group’s members include BASF Corp., John Deere, Pioneer Seed, and Monsanto, which has several research farms in the Mason area. Michigan Agricultural Commodities, the largest grain handler in the state with corporate offices on Canal Road in Lansing, is also a longtime MABA member.
MABA, which was founded 117 years ago as a hay and feed marketing group and has four full-time employees, is the “voice of supply side agriculture” in the state, Byrum explains. “We provide lots of information, education opportunities and safety training. We are the umbrella organization for the ag supplier industry to come together and do business.”
The group hosted its annual winter conference at the Lansing Center in January, which shined a spotlight on how agricultural technology is maximizing production and promoting sustainability.
“New genetic materials are helping famers increase yields per acre and helping them make more money. Consistency of yields is where we have noticed huge improvements. Because of better seed genetics, which allow crops to mature quicker, we envision a lot of fallow land in northern Michigan will one day come back into production,” Byrum adds.
About 95 percent of soybeans and about 80 percent of corn planted in the state are advanced seed technologies, he says.
MABA’s “2025” project was announced earlier this year and is an effort, Byrum says, to get industry leaders thinking about their long-term needs and how Michigan agriculture will grow in future years.
“With yields projected to increase, and likely more acres under production in Michigan, we will be handling more bushels of grain—likely hundreds of millions of bushels more than we currently produce. Monsanto predicts we could double corn production in the state by 2030.
“For that to happen, we need more handling capacity so farmers can move their harvest to grain elevators, more infrastructure so we can access railroads to move that grain and even infrastructure in areas where there is little today,” Byrum says.
The projected increase in corn production is good news for Carbon Green BioEnergy, which is a MABA member and operates a $60 million ethanol plant in Woodbury, Mich., in western Eaton County. The company has helped fuel demand for feedstock corn in the state and produces about 50 million gallons of corn ethanol annually.
Ethanol is 200-proof alcohol made from the fermentation of various starch sources, including feedstock corn, and is a high-octane motor fuel that burns more completely than gasoline alone. About 30 percent of the nation’s corn supply was used for the production of ethanol in 2009, according to the American Coalition for Ethanol.
“We have five operating ethanol plants in the state. They suck up about 100 million bushels of corn. It’s still an emerging market for corn growers across the state,” Byrum adds.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, delivered the State of Michigan Agriculture address given at this year’s MABA conference. The senator highlighted agriculture’s importance to the Michigan economy, noting that agriculture is the second-largest sector of Michigan’s economy. Overall, agriculture contributes more than $71 billion to the economy annually and supports one out of every four jobs across the state, according to statistics compiled by Michigan State University.
In her speech, Sen. Stabenow noted efforts to grow Michigan’s agriculture economy through domestic bio-based manufacturing. She also discussed the 2012 effort to help create an environment in which farmers and small business owners can continue to create jobs.
As farming complexity increases, new technology is going to enable farmers and agricultural suppliers to find new solutions to further increase yields and feed increasing world populations, Byrum says.
“We need to constantly manage data effectively, develop solutions and build critical infrastructure that will help us implement solutions. These are top priorities for Michigan agriculture.”
Author: Randy J. Stine.
Photography: Terri Shaver.
Michigan Agri-Business Association
Jim Byrum, President
1501 North Shore Dr., Ste. A