|New Investment in Higher Education will Expand Opportunity in Agriculture|
March 30, 2014/MLive
By Jim Byrum
Agriculture is a thriving business in Michigan. Our wide range of crops and commodities makes our state the second most diverse in the country. Our farms and agribusinesses support about one in four Michigan jobs and add $96 billion to the state’s economy.
At the same time, we face a long-term challenge to hire enough skilled workers to get the job done. Agriculture is highly technical and we need to ensure a highly-educated workforce for Michigan’s farms and agribusinesses – from agronomists and engineers, to accountants and logistics experts. That means investing today to train the leaders of tomorrow.
Governor Snyder kicked off this important conversation by including a balanced new investment in higher education as part of his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal.
This funding would be used to make college affordable for all Michiganders. It would help grow wages and income for more people, and attract more business to the state by expanding our educated workforce.
For students across the state who want to be part of a rapidly growing food and agriculture sector, expanded higher education funding would open new doors at our state universities. Ultimately, many of these young people will help meet our critical demand for employees, and others will use their skills to create new businesses and new jobs.
This is an especially important element for Michigan’s rural economy, which relies heavily on agriculture.
While the Governor has taken the first step toward strengthening higher education funding in Michigan, responsibility now lies with the state legislature to make higher education a priority. Funding cuts to the state university system, rising tuition and fewer choices for today’s aspiring college students mean that now is the time for legislators to approve a common-sense investment to boost higher education.
No doubt Michigan agriculture would benefit greatly from a long-term investment to train skilled leaders for our industry. Too often, folks who aspire to help grow Michigan’s agriculture sector have been shut out by rising tuition and increased student debt.
Increased higher education funding would benefit people in every part of the state and help families from all walks of life. No matter where they hail from, members of the Michigan House and Senate have an opportunity to stand in support of Michigan families and make a college education a reality for more students.
We can turn this problem around. An investment in higher education today is an investment toward a more prosperous future for the state – including further growth and stronger momentum for Michigan’s farms and agribusinesses.
Jim Byrum is president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.