While on the US-23 legislative tour, Michigan's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development director discussed the department's ongoing bovine tuberculosis eradication efforts, as well as ways it's working to grow rural communities.
Some months after the discovery of TB-positive herds in Alcona County and near Saginaw, Jamie Clover Adams said MDARD is working hard to deal with the problems. The department also is learning from the case in Saginaw, where one person involved with the herd wasn't following state laws.
"Our plan is, when we're finished up with that, and we're about 75 percent done with trace backs and 50 percent done with circle tests, we're going to sit down and re-evaluate our enforcement protocols," she said.
However, MDARD isn't interested in becoming a "gotcha" agency, Clover Adams said. Department employees would rather work with dairy producers to ensure compliance with cow tagging and reporting regulations than slap them with fines the first time they make a mistake.
Dairy farmers could see a change in the state's split status, Clover Adams said. She and other department officials are working with the United States Department of Agriculture to eventually shrink the state's modified accredited zone down to roughly the boundaries of the Department of Natural Resources' Deer Management Unit 452. This odd-shaped area encompasses the four corners of Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda counties and has the highest deer TB infection rate.
"The situation in Saginaw has thrown a little wrench in that, but we're still having those conversations, and we're still advocating to the USDA the data shows we should shrink the area," she said.
Clover Adams expressed frustration that the final decision lies with the federal agency. Dairy producers also are frustrated with the uncertainty and amount of time it's taking to stamp out the bovine TB problem.
"We are committed to tackling this," she said.
To do so, MDARD continues to partner with the DNR to address TB among deer, Clover Adams said. Deer baiting bans and other management tools have brought out different points of view among hunters, but the department is providing lots of help.
By helping a new generation of farmers market their produce and using rural development to create food hubs, MDARD hopes to help rural areas thrive throughout the state, including Northeast Michigan, Clover Adams said. These hubs help smaller growers sell their product to larger suppliers and retailers.
Higher prices and increasing public awareness of where food comes from can draw younger people into agriculture, Clover Adams said. Working with Michigan State University Extension, the department can help them learn what they need for success.
On Tuesday, MSU released survey findings showing a high level of enthusiasm for agriculture, Clover Adams said. The enthusiasm index reached 147, with a score of 100 considered neutral.
"I look at these indexes a lot, I've never seen it that high," she said. "It goes back to young people. I think they see the opportunities."