Agribusiness on the Rise

Byrum’s organization advocates for, as he said, “everyone in farming but the farmer.” Of course, by working to further the development and prosperity of businesses engaged in agriculture, the farmer benefits as well.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines agri-business as “An enterprise that derives a significant portion of its revenues from sales of agricultural products or sales to agricultural producers.” This could include seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing and retail sales. The most recent category to enter into the equation is the development of alternative and renewable fuels; in Michigan, ethanol (made from corn) is the best known, but certainly not the only, entry into this growing field.

The forerunner of the Michigan Agri-Business Association was the Michigan Grain Dealers Association, formed in June of 1903. Over the years, the name has changed, reflecting the merger of other associations and the development of new areas of interest. Today, Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA) representatives interact with state and national legislators, work with state agencies and make sure that the voice of agri-business is heard and heeded.

The association is also a supporter of education and offers informational programs on a wide range of topics important to its 500 members. Regular newsletters and other communications keep members up to date both on agriculture in general and the activities of the association in particular. Each year, they sponsor a winter conference and trade show and a summer conference and also publish a directory of who’s who in Michigan agriculture. The association employs four along with a full contingent of consultants and is guided by a board of directors.

Byrum explained, “Agriculture and agri-business combine to represent a $60 billion industry in Michigan and account for over one million jobs. This year, economically, has been the best ever. Agriculture has always been dynamic and that continues due in part to the development of renewable fuels made from agricultural products.

Just last March, the MABA announced the formation of the Bio-Economy Caucus, a bipartisan caucus made up of Michigan legislators dedicated to advancing the bio-economy in Michigan. Co-chaired by state senators Cameron Brown (R-Fawn River Township) and Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) and state representatives Kathy Angerer (D-Dundee) and David Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), the caucus will focus on renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, seed development and propagation, as well as biomass research activities and the development of bio-based materials for industrial and commercial uses.”agritourism-coverspread

In another move designed to boost Michigan’s agriculture and bio-based industries, the MABA has formed a consortium with partners from agri-business, ethanol and biodiesel producers, research entities, Michigan State University, several state agencies, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, Bayer and others. Byrum said, “Bio-economy is the wave of the future and the Michigan Bio-Economy Consortium is a major resource to help businesses, farmers, consumers and our economy harness those opportunities.”

On September 12 and 13, the MABA and the consortium are presenting a Bio-Economy Summit with presentations on ethanol, biodiesel, additional renewable fuel sources, renewable fuel policy issues, bio-products and solvents, bio-refinery development, wood based refinery utilization, bio-mass development, and cellulosic bio-refineries. It’s obvious by looking through the array of topics that it’s a whole new world for agriculture, one never imagined when the grain dealers founded that first association in 1903!

Asked about future trends in agriculture, Byrum noted, “I believe that farms of the future will either be very large with increased acreage, higher production and more efficiency, or else small with an emphasis on organic farming and specialized crops. Business, science, technology and agriculture will continue to work together to support the bio-economy of the state.

We’ve all read the news about food imported from China and other places. There is an increasing interest in buying locally produced fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meat or, at the very least, staying away from imports. The food supply in the United States is simply the safest in the world.”

Byrum concluded, “This is a great time for agriculture and agri-business. We are a vibrant industry poised to become Michigan’s largest. The future holds great promise, and we are excited to be part of it.”

For more information and to read MABA’s newsletters online, go to

You go to Uncle John’s Cider Mill to buy apples and cider, right? Well, not really, according to Patrick O’Connor, director of the Michigan Farm Marketing and Agri-Tourism Association, founded in 2005.  “Consumers can buy apples at the corner grocery store. They don’t need to drive into the countryside to pick up those honey crisp apples and buttermilk doughnuts. What makes people go that extra mile to get apples? It’s not the fruit, excellent as it is; it’s the experience. They go to see the trees where the apples grow, go on a hayride, watch cider being pressed in the big barn and then drink a cup of it at a picnic table overlooking the orchards. This phenomenon is part of what is being called the experience economy. And this is what agri-tourism is all about.

“Agri-tourism combines the product with a personal experience. The simple buying and selling of a product becomes more valuable with this sense of individuation. Rather than a transaction with little ‘personality,’ if you will, buying your apples from Uncle John’s gives you a sense of craftsmanship, of history and heritage, and it becomes much more interesting to both the consumer and to the seller. People crave that local experience and sense of place. It’s an emotional connection.”

Agri-tourism can include:

  • Farmers markets
  • Farm stays or visits, including dude ranches
  • Roadside markets or stands
  • U-pick operations
  • Community-supported agriculture
  • Rural tourism
  • Farm museums
  • Corn mazes
  • Cider mills
  • Pumpkin patches
  • Petting farms
  • On-farm retail shops selling meat, dairy products, woolen goods, plants and/or gifts
  • Maple syrup farms
  • Wineries
  • Christmas tree farms
  • Herb and spice operations
  • On-farm bakeries, restaurants and cafes
  • Local festivals and fairs

O’Connor left the Michigan Apple Growers Association as executive director to return to school to study for his PhD. His work, both practically with the Apple Growers Association and academically in his studies, led him to form this new organization for those involved in Michigan farm marketing or agri-tourism. Starting with the concept, O’Connor did extensive research on whether or not there was an interest and a need and just what the association should do. Based on surveys, focus groups and consultation and discussion with experts in the field, O’Connor determined that there was indeed interest in such an organization and that it should:

  1. Advance Michigan agriculture by promoting the collective interests of its members
  2. Increase public awareness of locally produced products, Michigan’s agricultural heritage and its diversity and experiences
  3. Facilitate and coordinate efforts with other state, local and national organizations with similar interests

As the only staff person of this new endeavor, O’Connor appreciates the input of a diverse Board of Directors from throughout the state. He anticipates that both the organization in particular and agri-tourism in general will continue to grow and new partnerships will be formed as that development continues.

The face of agriculture has changed and will continue to change, grow and evolve. These two associations understand that and stand ready to facilitate that growth.

Author: Jane Whittington
Photography: Terri Shaver

Michigan Agri-Business Association

1501 North Shore Drive

East Lansing


James Byrum, President


Michigan Farm Marketing and Agri-Tourism Association


Patrick O’Connor, Executive Director


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