Ogemaw Co. defends Right to Farm, earns Grass-Roots Lobbying Award

Ogemaw County Farm Bureau earned the 2019 Excellence in Grass-roots Lobbying Award for its assertive defense of Michigan’s Right to Farm Act in the face of a rogue township looking to write its own rules for limiting animal agriculture.

No sooner had word of the action reached county Farm Bureau leaders than they set into motion a plan for stopping it in its tracks. After solemnizing their official opposition at a special meeting, they launched an informational outreach campaign to all their members—regular and associate—and contacted every county commissioner and every township supervisor.

It came to light the county’s Edwards Township was considering a zoning ordinance that would have severely restricted and regulated large livestock farms—a clear overreach of the Right to Farm Act.

Their aggressive awareness campaign paid off, pressuring the Edwards Township board from the get-go.

“Our farmers worked hard to help the township and planning commission understand why we were against the ordinance—and help their lawyer understand why the Right to Farm act made the local ordinance null regardless,” said Brent Illig, Ogemaw County Farm Bureau president. “Members of the county Farm Bureau—and a good share of non-members—met to talk through the issue, figure out the correct approach and show a unified front.”

When word of the situation reached MFB headquarters in Lansing, Ag Ecology Department Manager Laura Campbell jumped into the fray as an advisor.

“Ogemaw County really showed off exactly how a county Farm Bureau can be an influential voice of agriculture,” Campbell said. “They immediately went into action. When they had the zoning meeting, the county Farm Bureau packed the house. There were probably 60 farmers in that room from all over the county.

“They each brought their own concerns [and] carried a narrative through the entire meeting and were able to convince the board that severely restricting livestock agriculture was not only was something not legal to do in the state because of our Right to Farm protections, but also wasn’t right for Ogemaw County.”

County Farm Bureau members wrote letters to all the appropriate officials, spoke at public hearings, led individual conversations and addressed the county commission.

“We also got MDEQ and MDARD involved,” Illig added. “The director of the DEQ wrote a letter to the township opposing the ordinance, which was a great support to the county Farm Bureau’s argument.”

From his perspective managing Right to Farm for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ben Tirrell had a close eye on the situation.

“There’s a vast number of local ordinances that are probably invalid in terms of the Right to Farm Act,” said Tirrell, an active member of the Eaton County Farm Bureau. “This one…I was pretty surprised, because it was a pretty extensive re-write of a lot of what Right to Farm is all about. It would’ve put excessive burden on producers.”

A livestock producer himself, Tirrell applauded the actions taken by Ogemaw County farmers.

“The role of the farmer or citizen is always much more important than our role,” Tirrell said. “It was ultimately up to someone on the ground in Ogemaw County and Edwards Township to take action.”

“We considered this a big success and hopefully we can work with the township in the future to address their concerns with agriculture in a much more appropriate manner,” Illig said.

“We were able to protect our farmers’ rights while also setting a precedent that this was outside of the jurisdiction of the township board. The relationships built through the process will only continue to move agriculture and local government forward.”

The award will be presented at the annual Lansing Legislative Seminar, Feb. 26 at the Lansing Center. For its efforts Ogemaw County Farm Bureau receives a $500 grant for use toward future grass-roots lobbying activities.