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Farm Bureau delegates pass Right-to-Farm policies

After this year’s hubbub over Right-to-Farm Act relevance to urban farming, Michigan Farm Bureau members fine-tuned their Right-to-Farm policies during their 95th annual meeting in Grand Rapids.

Tasked with writing guidance for the organization in 2015 as it continues to promote and defend agriculture, delegates at MFB’s annual meeting tackled two policies to give direction about Right-to-Farm for the coming year.

“We support a cooperative effort among Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan Farm Bureau and other stakeholders to establish a definition for commercial production of farm products within the GAAMPs framework,” new language approved by delegates reads.

GAAMPs—Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices—are voluntary guidelines farmers must follow to receive Right-to-Farm protection against nuisance lawsuits over common farming activities.

Earlier this year, some urban farmers attempted to invoke Right-to-Farm Act protections in defense of their practices when local ordinances stifled them. But, as originally composed, the law was designed specifically to protect farms from encroaching suburbia. Since it was enacted in 1981, the law had not addressed urban agriculture siting except to note that farmers everywhere were expected to comply with local zoning ordinances.

Subsequent confusion prompted this year’s additions to MFB’s long-standing Right-to-Farm policy.

“We’re seeking to clarify what it means to be a commercial farm so we can avoid future misunderstanding,” said Sarah Black, director of MFB’s public policy division. “We continue to support protections for traditional farm operations while creating new opportunities for ur-

ban farms in a responsible manner.”

Farm Bureau policymakers voted to further clarify the application of Right-to-Farm to housing developments and windmill projects.

“They call these things wind farms, but they’re not farms,” one delegate argued, “and they should not be included in the definition of a farm.” Delegates agreed, and inserted language into the policy that opposes inclusion of commercial wind turbine facilities as part of a definition of a farm.

If Farm Bureau’s Right-to-Farm policy will define commercial agriculture, its urban farming policy will seek to define urban agriculture.

New language supports collaboration with MDARD and other stakeholders to “write a model local ordinance to promote protection of and guidelines for urban agriculture.” The policy also shows support of the urban livestock work group, formed last July.

Delegates supported the use of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes and deleted new proposed policy language that supported the registration of drones or any unmanned aircraft. New policy language also opposes “excessive regulation of farm-use drones that would restrict access to drone-based services.”

In an issue that’s been controversial in farm country, MFB delegates reaffirmed the importance of its proprietary data policy while making small changes to bolster existing security concepts.

Language was added to the policy to protect crop yield and other data, noting that members advocate “utilizing all safeguards” in that effort. Policy also advocates that “data (be) stored at an entity that is not subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Despite problems finding enough labor to bring in crops in recent years, Farm Bureau members had little discussion before approving minor changes to national farm labor policy. State Farm Bureaus make recommendations on select American Farm Bureau Federation policies.

On state immigration, delegates passed policy that continues to oppose state mandates on employers to use E-verify or any similar program.

Delegates also approved new language that supports the state’s new Office for New Americans “to improve worker availability in agriculture.”