Berrien County Youth Fair Displays the Talent of our Youth, Builds Character

One of the highlights of summer takes place next week in Berrien Springs.

The talent of young people from across Southwest Michigan will be on display at the Berrien County Youth Fair, running from Aug. 13-18.

The event will include more than 14,000 exhibits ranging from dairy, beef and sheep to home economics and horticulture, presented by more than 2,500 youth from 5 to 20 years old.

These exhibits exemplify the fair’s vision: “Building the character of the community by developing the character of our youth.” As anyone who has displayed at a fair knows, it takes hard work and perseverance to produce a winning entry. And it makes winners out of all those who enter.

For more than six decades, the Berrien County Youth Fair has been honoring these young ladies and gentlemen for their hard work. This year the winners will be rewarded with cash prizes, trophies, savings bonds and gift certificates.

The county fair, one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest, also includes outstanding entertainment. This year the grandstand artists include Arkansas native and country music star Justin Moore and rock singer Bret Michaels.

The fair has consistently fulfilled its purpose of promoting and advancing the interests of agriculture, horticulture, household arts and related fields while instilling character in our young people and building a solid foundation for our future.

I applaud the Berrien County Youth Fair for their wonderful work in Southwest Michigan, and I encourage residents to join me at the fair.

For more information about the fair and to purchase grandstand tickets, please visit www.bcyf.org.

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Allow Hunters to Help Farmers Protect Crops from Excess Deer

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, yet hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops are lost each year due to nuisance deer. The problem has been exacerbated over the years as the number of deer has increased.

Farmers and other landowners may soon be able to enlist the help of hunters to protect their crops.

Legislation I sponsored may soon be signed into law to create a “Hunters Helping Landowners” program in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The program will help connect farmers experiencing crop losses with potential hunters interested in helping reduce the number of excess deer.

Individuals willing to hunt nuisance deer would submit an application to the DNR and indicate up to two Michigan counties in which they are interested in hunting. Landowners who need additional antlerless deer harvested on their property would contact the DNR and request a list of those who have expressed interest in hunting in their county.

I modeled the program after an Indiana initiative and designed it to complement an earlier reform that gives landowners with significant crop damage more flexibility in managing deer on their property.

My previous reform became law in March, allowing someone with a DNR deer damage shooting permit to include up to 15 authorized shooters to implement the permit.

Southwest Michigan families know about the importance of agriculture to our region and way of life. I worked to enact both of these common-sense measures because they will allow our family farmers to protect their livelihoods and the crops that fuel a multi-billion-dollar industry and support thousands of Michigan jobs.

Proos Nuisance Deer Legislation Goes to the Governor

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State Senator John Proos says that he has a plan to help Michigan farmers better protect their crops from nuisance deer. Legislation that he introduced to hook those farmers up with eager hunters is now on its way to Governor Rick Snyder. Under Proos’ bill, farmers looking to rid themselves of those troublesome deer can simply contact the Department of Natural Resources and find out who in their county has signed up to be a special volunteer hunter.

A previous plan from Proos allowed a few extra deer to be shot offseason if they’re found to be a nuisance to farmers. This new legislation organizes the process a bit by letting the DNR match up the farmers with the shooters. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign it.

Federal Disaster Declaration Would Help Local Farmers

A frost in early April destroyed an estimated 10,000 acres of Southwest Michigan grapes, approximately 95-percent of the region’s total grape crop. As a result, it is projected that grape farmers will lose more than $20 million for the 2012 season.

I sponsored a Senate resolution urging President Obama to help these farmers financially recover from this devastation by declaring the Southwest Michigan fruit-growing region a disaster area.

The declaration would allow our hard-hit fruit and vegetable growers access to low-interest loans and other federal assistance.

In 2010, Michigan produced 36,000 tons of grapes with a net value of $15.4 million. Southwest Michigan grapes are used for juice and wine production around the country.

Welch’s Foods relies on Michigan growers for 17 percent of its grape supplies for its juice production. The company said the frost was the most devastating in Michigan history, and a Welch’s surveyor called it a “complete wipeout.”

Warm temperatures in 2012 wreaked havoc on the state’s grape, apple and other crops. The early warmth caused plants to sprout prematurely, putting them at risk of damage when devastating frost occurred.

This disaster has negatively impacted the approximately one million residents who work in Michigan’s agriculture industry, which brings in about $64 billion a year.

These crops represent a livelihood for the many families who rely on the state’s 50,000 farms. The declaration would be a way of stepping up and helping our local farmers survive a natural disaster as well as the thousands of Michigan families and workers who depend on them.

Environmental Leaders Program Would Reward Good Stewards

From agriculture to tourism, our unique and bountiful Southwest Michigan environment provides us with so many opportunities.

That is why I recently introduced legislation in the Michigan Senate to reduce regulations and provide incentives for businesses that volunteer to become certified environmental leaders.

My measure is part of a four-bill package that would create the Environmental Leaders Program within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The bill is aimed at reducing cumbersome regulations on job providers who choose to go above and beyond current state requirements.

I sponsored this initiative to incentivize Michigan businesses to become more environmentally responsible and help the state more efficiently use its limited resources.

Under Senate Bills 939-942, becoming an environmental leader would be voluntary and would require significant time and investment. In turn, environmental leaders would earn extended length of permits, less frequent inspections, preference for state contract bidding and protection against civil fines.

The program would benefit local businesses and farms and encourage them to participate in environmental management programs, such as the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

It is a positive step for everyone when we can reduce job-killing red tape and make government more efficient. I am committed to this initiative to enhance environmental protection and thank businesses that are already going beyond the call of duty, because much of our Southwest Michigan economy depends on our great natural resources.

Agriculture Task Force Unveils Broad Plan

Agriculture contributes $71.3 billion annually to Michigan’s economy, making it the second largest industry in the state. It also employs more than 1 million people, and plays a large role in our way of life in Michigan’s great southwest.

It is an economic powerhouse that cannot be overlooked by state government, which must strive to work better with farmers and agri-business to encourage new jobs in this industry.

I am proud to support the House Republican Strategic Task Force on Agriculture, which recently unveiled a report outlining ways to strengthen agriculture across the state and decrease government bureaucracy.

Solutions proposed by the task force include promoting “Buy Local, Buy Michigan” through an advertising logo on state materials; providing the same tax incentives for innovative agricultural processes that alternative energy proposals receive; and ensuring state regulations aren’t more stringent than federal regulations.

The Agriculture task force report is part of an ongoing effort by the House Republican Caucus to reinvigorate, reinvest and reform Michigan’s economy.

Included in this effort was my Strategic Task Force on Jobs initiative, which outlined several opportunities to encourage job growth across Michigan.

The Agriculture report and my Jobs Task Force report serve as a road map for pro-job, growth-oriented policy.

Both reports can be downloaded online at http://www.gophouse.com.

Gov. Signs Cottage Kitchen Legislation

Cottage kitchens are now legal in Michigan, as Governor Granholm this week signed my cottage kitchen legislation into law.

My legislation to encourage family farm businesses and entrepreneurship in the food and agricultural industries through cottage kitchens is now officially state law.

The House and Senate both overwhelmingly approved this measure to help stifle a government bureaucracy and foster agricultural entrepreneurialism.

When signed into law, venders at roadside stands and farmer’s markets will be able to produce goods in their own homes, but all products will have to be labeled with “Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.”

This legislation sets a home entrepreneur’s maximum sales at $15,000 per year, and will allow cottage food operations to sell out of their homes, at farmers markets, roadside stands, county fairs and town events.

The agriculture industry has long been a leader for our state, and we must encourage job opportunities in this industry.

This is an important jobs tool, and I am pleased that Lansing lawmakers were able to recognize the clear need for action and work together.