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1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Stewarding Michigan's agricultural future in the midst of a climate crisis

MDARD director Dr. Tim Boring
State of Michigan


Dr. Tim Boring serves as the Director for MDARD supporting the department's continued commitment in investing in the state’s rural communities, expanding food and agriculture businesses, protecting consumers from the pump to the plate, and preserving Michigan’s environmental resources. He previously served as the State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency. Boring's family operates a six-generation farm in Stockbridge, Michigan. Prior to his appointment at the USDA, he was the president and founder of Michigan Agriculture Advancement. He also previously served as the Vice President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association and worked as research director of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee. Governor Whitmer had previously appointed Dr. Boring to the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2019. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriscience, Master of Science in Crop and Soil Sciences, and Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences from Michigan State University.


Lisa Wozniak
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak

Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's degrees in social work and Education.

Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'


Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD)

Federal Farm Bill Info

NPR: "Canada's unprecedented wildfire season has affected air quality beyond its borders"


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the July edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. On the first Friday of each month, we explore environmental issues pertinent to the health and well-being of our environment. And today, the focus is on agriculture and the environment. Our partner in this monthly conversation series is the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Lisa Wozniak always knows the right people to invite, so we all get a better understanding of where we are and where we're going. Always good to see you, Lisa.

Lisa Wozniak: And it's always good to be here. Dave. Today, we are very fortunate to steal a little bit of time with a very busy man. Tim Boring is the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. And, Tim, it's nice to have you with us here today.

David Fair: Yes, we're grateful.

Tim Boring: Fantastic to be here.

David Fair: I think that one of the things on everybody's mind these days is air quality. The Canadian wildfires have at time made Detroit in Michigan's air quality worse than the U.S. and the world. What do you consider when you look at that through the lens of agriculture in our state?

Tim Boring: We're talking a lot here at the department about resiliency and diversity, and that means a lot of different things: resiliency of our ag supply chains, the climate resiliency piece of how agriculture is dealing with this, diversity in the sense that the crops we grow, and the types of operations growing them. So, when we look at these wildfire issues that are having such a demonstrable impact on our tirement here, it just accentuates in another way of the real need that we have to be working on climate resiliency. But these aren't situations that are confined to Michigan or the Great Lakes and the United States that that these are global issues we're faced with. And we live within a global food system and a global agricultural system. And, for me, it really underscores the fact that we have to be looking at these challenges in a far more holistic way of not necessarily just within the geographic regions we're often comfortable in, but understanding of how all of these things tie in to one another. When we're talking about what we want to do within our ag systems, we have to understand the implications of this upon economies in different ways and our public health. So, it just really accentuates for me of just how interconnected this entire system is.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Tim, we've been cautioned that the air quality is likely to remain a significant issue through the summer. So, let's talk about ramifications. When it comes to agriculture and rural development, what are the ramifications of this potentially, you know, lasting much longer?

Tim Boring: Well, when we look at crop yields, I think there's a potential issue within our agricultural systems of some reduced output of the fact that if we just simply don't have solar radiation the way that we would normally expect that we might very well see some slight reduction.

David Fair: You talked about resiliency in the changing climate. The farm bill is the capstone agricultural policy and funding legislation in Congress, and it's kicked off the process of writing a new bill this year. President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, enacted last year, allocated 20 billion for climate smart agriculture and conservation practices within traditional farm bill programs. Why should we be thinking about climate change and agricultural policy? And how can this funding help Michigan?

Tim Boring: The efforts in the farm bill are central to how we can position ourselves to address resiliency and diversity. And the funding that's come through IRA into conservation programs is essential for how we're tackling a lot of the fundamental issues we have. But the opportunities in the farm bill are we have some flexibility here of how we position ourselves and our agricultural system in a more dynamic way forward. The USDA has enacted some important groundbreaking work with their climate smart commodities program of the attempts to value the outcomes of environmental aspects of agriculture in different ways--creating additional revenue streams for agriculture. So, if we're going to talk about valuing how food is grown and the outcomes that we have on the environment, I think those are some really important ways that we can be taking a look at what some of the USDA has done in terms of landmark efforts here, incorporating those those things into the farm bill, understanding the linkages between conservation and risk mitigation. And there are things that we're going to be looking to model here in Michigan as well.

David Fair: WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues with my co-host, Lisa Wozniak from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And our guest is Tim Boring. Tim is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Lisa Wozniak: Tim, so much of the discussion on climate remediation is focused on industry and energy, and you've addressed this a little bit, but I'd like to dig in. What responsibility does the agricultural industry and leaders like yourself in particular have in contributing to slowing the change and allowing for best adaptation practices?

Tim Boring: Well, I talk a lot about the fact that the stakeholders of our department or anybody who eats in the state or lives in this state. So, I think absolutely we've got an opportunity here to, through what we've done within agriculture, to address those stakeholder needs. And what we can do within agriculture of improving climate resiliency, mitigating the effects of climate change to what we're doing with land use, I think is an important conversation, and we've seen a lot of that around carbon markets. The idea here that we're going to incentivize environmental outcomes in different ways. There's also aspects here of energy independence and how we're producing energy in this country and an understanding, too, that farms and agribusinesses are often scattered across the state, oftentimes in rural areas. They tend to be heavy energy users, oftentimes, sometimes periodically through the years as farmers might be. But there are some real opportunities here to re-envision what we're doing with domestic energy production--domestic clean energy production. It's a revenue stream for rural communities in ways that we haven't had in the past. And so, I think that's going to be an important piece of how agriculture continues to interact with this. I think there's a real opportunity here for farms to be generating rural or clean energy on their own operations that are decentralizing the energy grid. We're going to continue to be active in this area of understanding how we address clean energy here is in the best interest of every stakeholder.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Tim, I'd like to actually go to that a little bit, because enabling Michigan farmers to earn revenue from the installation of solar and other renewable energy sources on their privately owned farmland has become, unfortunately, rather controversial in some Michigan communities. It could be economically beneficial to the farmers, as you've pointed out, and their communities and help move the renewable energy sector forward. Where does your department stand on creating a statewide policy that would allow for such practices?

Tim Boring: Well, I think the department level would certainly recognize individual property rights, and that's really consistent with the values of producers that we constantly interact with. Yes, this has become a contentious issue in a lot of ways, and it challenges, in some respects, of what rural communities look like. And when we talk about land use changes, those should be discussions communities are having. I think it's important that we continue to have or enact situations and conditions here where folks can continue to exercise their rights of how they use their land. So, the department is going to be continuing to understand and appreciate of how we interface with the administration to a broader priority and understanding of how critically important it is to be moving towards a carbon neutral economy here. So, we'll continue to be engaged in those sorts of things, and we'll continue to look for opportunities that are jointly support the desired outcomes of enhanced clean energy and building stronger, more resilient, and diverse agricultural systems.

David Fair: And let's talk about land use and the broader perspective, particularly when it comes to farming and agriculture. As we consider new sources of revenue, how are the small firms and rural communities doing equally economically right now in Michigan? And are we going to end up with more factory farms and less of the family farms that are a major part of the character of Michigan?

Tim Boring: Well, broadly, when we look at the agricultural economy right now, revenues are expected to be slightly down for 2023. And that's just partly in response to declining cash receipts for ag products. But it's also the fact that input costs are up largely that the path to growing within agriculture over the last few decades here has been consolidation. And it's been true of the economic conditions that farms themselves and for agribusiness as well. And I think there's a growing understanding of the fact that there is a need to look at the consolidation and support growth opportunities through additional ways than just simply adding more acres or adding more production. It's something we're focused on at the department through a lot of our ag investment opportunities to continue to build up additional capacity for smaller farms to have processing capacity. USDA has seen significant investments in this through opportunities, like improved meat processing capacity, understanding that there aren't a lot of medium-sized meat processing operations anymore for a variety of reasons, but looking to address those kinds of issues. So, when we look at how we build resilience in diversity into our agricultural systems, it's something I think there's a real opportunity for us here as a department to work on--understanding the additional values that small and medium operations bring to Michigan and making sure that we've got, you know, viable strategies to grow businesses for smaller and medium-sized operations.

David Fair: Well, we mentioned right at the outset of the conversation that you were a very busy man. And the future looks even busier. We thank you for the time in the insights today, Tim.

Tim Boring: Happy to be here. Thanks so much.

David Fair: That is Tim Boring. He is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and our guest on WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. For more information on today's topic, visit our website at WEMU dot org. First Friday Focus on the Environment is produced in partnership with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and its executive director, Lisa Wozniak, who serves as my co-host each month. And, Lisa, thanks for today, and we'll see you in August.

Lisa Wozniak: Thank you, Dave. I look forward to it.

David Fair: I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Lisa Wozniak is Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
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