6 ways Whitmer’s state budget plan invests in rural Michigan

6 ways Whitmer’s state budget plan invests in rural Michigan

Photo Illustration/Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

By Kyle Kaminski

March 6, 2024

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget proposal could boost funding for Michigan’s rural communities—including new state programs designed to support farmers, expand agricultural supply chains, and help small businesses grow. 

MICHIGAN—Michigan’s kids and public schools are set to reap some of the biggest rewards of Michigan’s new state budget proposal, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget latest plan is also heavily focused on specific investments for smaller, rural communities across Michigan.

In a statement, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Tim Boring said Whitmer’s spending plan “builds on the momentum of last year” and reflects “an “unwavering commitment to Michigan’s food and agricultural sectors and our rural communities.”

“The proposed budget allows MDARD to continue its effort to provide food safety, encourage environmental sustainability, foster economic development, and implement efficient and effective government,” Boring said last month. “Together, Michigan will remain a food and agriculture powerhouse while showing the world how everyone can ‘make it’ in Michigan.”

Funds for Agriculture 

More than 805,000 Michiganders are employed in production agriculture, food processing, or related businesses—which reportedly makes the state’s agriculture industry the second-largest contributor to the economy and the second-most diverse agricultural sector in the country

Whitmer’s budget earmarks about $144 million for MDARD—including $30 million for environmental and sustainability efforts like soil health and regenerative agriculture, climate resiliency programs, and pollution prevention programs, Michigan Advance reports

“We’re proud to support investments and enhancements in agricultural sustainability programs that will help drive innovation, bolster farm resiliency, promote food security, and help protect our state’s vital natural resources,” Ben Wickerham, a program director at The Nature Conservancy in Michigan, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with MDARD, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and the Legislature over the next several months as the budget takes shape.”

Protecting Natural Resources

A recent report from the Michigan Office of Rural Prosperity identified the protection of natural resources and land preservation as a top priority for rural communities across Michigan

Whitmer’s budget includes about $543 million for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—including efforts to help preserve natural environments and encourage environmentally friendly business practices to protect the environment in rural communities.

Among the items included in the DNR’s budget plan:

  • $83.8 million for wildlife and fisheries management 
  • $17.2 million for state parks improvements 
  • $7.1 million for invasive species prevention and control
  • $2.9 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Under Whitmer’s budget plan, the state departments of Health and Human Services and Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) would also reportedly receive more than $285 million to address environmental contamination from PFAS and other pollutants—including $37.2 million for EGLE’s Air Quality Division and $86.4 million for the Water Resources Division.

Another $10 million in funding was allocated for the MI Climate Smart Farming program, which is designed to assist farmers who choose to use environmentally friendly farming practices.

“This is something that research shows as an emerging opportunity for Michigan to lead, so taking that chance to really invest and exploring that opportunity is something we’re proud to do,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told the Midland Daily News. “It’s an indicator of something I’ve tried to work on with state government—to invest in an innovative economy—and I think regenerative agriculture is really an innovative practice and you’ll see a lot more of it in Michigan.”

Housing & Workforce Development 

The most cited concern facing Michigan’s rural communities is tied to workforce shortages and lack of affordable housing for workers, according to a recent state report. And state officials contend the two issues are closely linked—namely due to employers being unable to fill open positions because their applicants cannot find affordable housing in rural communities. 

Whitmer’s budget plan helps address the issue head on by providing $15 million to address workforce housing needs in the food and agriculture industry, namely in the form of grants to improve living conditions and housing options for migratory agriculture workers in Michigan.

A broader proposal included in Whitmer’s budget plan also calls for reducing housing costs through a new $1.4 billion housing and construction rehabilitation program across the state

Support for Farmers 

Whitmer’s latest budget proposal includes $4 million for a “Farm to Family” program designed to support regenerative farming practices, build out agricultural supply chains across the state, and promote Michigan food products. Boring has said the new program will build a more secure, sustainable, and self-sufficient food economy in Michigan—and provide a big boost for farmers.

The goal of the program, Boring told The Ticker, is to give Michiganders better access to Michigan-grown and Michigan-made products—perhaps in place of processed foods or foods imported from elsewhere—by directly connecting farmers, supply chains, and consumers.

“We want to make sure that, in underserved communities across Michigan—rural areas or urban areas—we’re getting Michigan food on family plates in a way that that feeds families,” Boring said. “We see that as an investment in our long-term future healthcare costs in the country.”

Boring also told The Ticker that he’ll be doing “a lot of talking and listening to farmers distributors, processors, and retail outlets” this year to get a better sense of what they’ll need out of the Farm to Family program in order to help build out a better food system in Michigan.

“Farm-to-Family is an exciting new investment demonstrating Gov. Whitmer’s commitment to food supply chain resilience,” Paul Avery, owner of the Tiki Hut Farm Market, said in a statement. “These are the kind of forward-leaning ideas citizens appreciate from government.”

Whitmer’s latest budget plan also includes $3 million in funding for the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, a partnership among the state’s animal agriculture industries and Michigan State University that’s focused entirely on advancing the state’s animal agriculture economy.

Rural Prosperity

In 2022, Whitmer established the Michigan Office of Rural Development—largely in response to concerns from rural Michiganders who wanted to ensure state policies, programs, and other resources were tailored to match the unique needs of rural areas. Last year, the office was renamed as the Office of Rural Prosperity and charged with focusing on key rural challenges— like housing, broadband, infrastructure, workforce development, and health care access. 

The latest state budget proposal includes $2.5 million for the recently renamed (and refocused) office to expand its outreach efforts and grant funding in rural communities across the state.

Rural Education

Some students need more help than others—and Whitmer’s budget plan recognizes that by investing $300 million for student mental health and school safety needs, $251 million to support literacy grants and literacy coaches, and $200 million for the MI Kids Back on Track program, which provides tutoring and other learning opportunities for kids both before and after school.

And rural Michiganders will also benefit from an additional $66.5 million in state funding that was earmarked specifically for rural districts, English language learners, and career and technical education programs—marking a 5% increase compared to the funds in the current state budget.

READ MORE: 7 ways Whitmer’s new budget plan invests in Michigan kids and schools

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

CATEGORIES: RURAL
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