Travel the scenic backroads of Ottawa County, you will notice one common denominator: farming. Whether it’s corn fields, fruit orchards, or livestock, you can easily see local agriculture at work.
With nearly 9,500 employed in ag-related businesses and $506 million worth of products sold annually (2017 Ag Census), Ottawa County’s agricultural sector is strong. During National Agriculture Week, we recognize the great economic, cultural, and nutritional impacts farming has on Ottawa County. We also recognize our farmers face challenges.
Just as local producers keep an eye on their operations to ensure a successful season, Ottawa County keeps a pulse on the local ag industry. It’s because of this careful observation that on March 23, 2021, which was National Agriculture Day, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners showed its support for the Focus on Agriculture Plan, a new four-part economic development action plan to address some of the issues our farms face.
Focus on Agriculture was developed as a result of the 2019 Ottawa County Farmland Preservation Survey, which asked County agricultural landowners and producers how best to protect and support farmland in Ottawa County, and, by extension, our local farming industry.
“Industry data, the farmland survey, and anecdotal reports all point to the same challenges — farmland is being lost to development, aging farmers are retiring and not being replaced, financial and property hurdles are preventing young farmers from entering the industry,” said Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County Economic Development Coordinator. “With Focus on Agriculture, we have identified ways that the County and industry partners can work together to help address these issues.”
The action plan targets these challenges through four focus areas:
• Succession Planning – develop an incentive pilot program, private sector partnerships, and host events
• Comprehensive Land Use Vision – improve planning and zoning efforts with improved data, mapping, and, when possible, encourage brownfield redevelopment over new construction
• Economic Viability – addressing barriers to financial success by supporting and promoting the use of development rights agreements, farmer income diversification, tax incentives, high-speed internet expansion, and technology
• Agricultural Easements – continued promotion of and investment in farmland protection through the Purchase of Development Rights Program as well as pursuing additional funding avenues and protection methods
Supporting this important initiative are a robust group of partners, including Lakeshore Advantage, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Homestead Orchards, LLC, the Ottawa County Farm Bureau, as well as local farmers and food processors.
“For years, Ottawa County and its partners have worked together on numerous different ag industry issues,” said Erin Moore, District Director for Michigan State University Extension (MSUE). “The Focus on Agriculture plan helps zero in on some key actions that can help support the local farm economy by slowing the loss of farmers, farms, and ultimately farmland.”