Moderated by Michigan Farm Bureau board member and Young Farmer Chair Paul Pridgeon, a seventh-generation farmer from Branch County, the conversation focused on the benefits of Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP); labor issues in agriculture, including H-2A challenges; and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on supply chains, among other topics.
Pridgeon’s experience with Michigan Farm Bureau includes graduating from their elite ProFile leadership development program, which helped him lead the discussion from former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch CEO Greg Herbruck.
As a major pork producer, Pridgeon shared data on how labor issues have affected the food supply chain, despite ample numbers of hogs in the United States.
“For hogs, the highest daily harvest that we had was the first week of January and we harvested 2.82 million animals per day that week,” Pridgeon said.
“Today, we’re somewhere around 2.2 or 2.3 million, and it’s not because we do not have the animals in the supply chain, we just do not have the labor to process it through.”
Snyder echoed the importance of maintaining a strong supply chain, saying it’s an issue that’s been underestimated for too long.
“Food is at the forefront because we can’t survive without it,” Snyder said.
“We need to do a lot more work, and Michigan can have a lot more leadership if we’re a leader in defining our supply chains and understanding supply chain functionality and supply chain security.”
The discussion turned to the importance of diversifying farming operations and being ready to adapt to rapidly changing markets and consumer demands, like shifts in how people ate breakfast at the height of the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, our main customer, McDonald’s, basically went down by 50%; Costco and Meijer went up by 50%,” said Herbruck, who’s poultry operation produces more than 3 billion eggs annually, making it one of the largest in the nation.
“It’s a complement to our team that they could pivot, and we took all our eggs from that and they wound up in Costco and Meijer packaging.”
When asked what he’s most excited about when it comes to Michigan’s ag economy, Herbruck said people are taking interest in their food, and he’s optimistic for the future.
Snyder agreed and called on agriculture and farmers to promote themselves more, not only from a worker recruitment standpoint, but also continuing to grow in Michigan’s tourism industry.
“We’re humble people in Michigan, but humility backfires when it’s taken too far,” Snyder said. “We need to be louder and prouder.”