Critical state funding for animal agriculture remains in jeopardy

Through M-AAA, MSU scientists have conducted relevant, timely research on behalf of the animal agriculture industry. Regrettably, state support is currently not appropriated for 2020, leaving critical research and outreach programs in jeopardy.

George Smith and Ron Bates
George Smith and Ron Bates

Animal agriculture represents a crucial component of Michigan’s economy. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), livestock production generates more than $5 billion annually.

To further strengthen the industry, animal agriculture organizations banded together in 2014 to form the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture (M-AAA). They invited us, Michigan State University (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to join and lend our research and outreach expertise. It’s been a rewarding experience that has brought praise from the industry.

Under this partnership, MSU scientists have conducted relevant, timely research on behalf of producers in areas crucial to the growth and sustainability of the industry. Through MSU Extension, research findings and recommended best practices have been relayed to farmers. These efforts are crucial to keeping our food supply safe, secure and affordable.  

To expand the scope of the initiative, the state of Michigan provided much-needed funding over the past three years. Regrettably, state support is currently not appropriated for 2020, leaving critical research and outreach programs in jeopardy.

This means that key industry areas— such as animal productivity, health and disease, environmental stewardship, and workforce development — may not get the research needed at a time when Michigan agriculture is reeling. According to MDARD, 2019 was one of the worst growing seasons on record with disaster declarations made in 74 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

In the coming weeks, it is expected that the legislature will consider a supplemental budget to restore some of the items previously vetoed in the 2020 budget, including $3 million for M-AAA. The opportunity to restore these critical M-AAA funds is now.

Research through this partnership has delved into a wide array of production challenges in partnership with roughly 80 farms in more than 50 legislative districts.

This work includes studying bovine leukemia virus (BLV), a disease that weakens the immune system of dairy and beef cattle that can lead to significant production problems. In Michigan alone, economic losses from BLV total roughly $14 million per year.

With M-AAA funding, Phil Durst, a senior MSU Extension educator, has examined the prevalence of BLV in Michigan dairy herds in an effort to bolster awareness of the disease and options for mitigating its effects. In the early stages of the project, MSU found an 88% prevalence of BLV in a survey of 113 Michigan dairy herds. Of these opera­tions, the average within-herd cow prevalence was 33 percent.

Alongside Durst, MSU researchers Paul Coussens and Paul Bartlett are uncovering how BLV affects the immune system susceptibility of the cattle. The promising results have leveraged additional federal grant funding, allowing MSU researchers to continue to gain insight and develop innovative strategies, such as single-use needles and examination sleeves, to lessen the likelihood of disease transmission

Adam Lock, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science, has worked with farms on nutritional strategies to increase milk fat content, which impacts the value of milk and profitability. By feeding dairy cattle a palmitic acid-supplemented diet, Lock showed that gross income would increase by 81 cents per cow, per day based on 2016 milk prices. That translates to an increase of more than $75,000 per year on a 500-cow dairy farm.

Darrin Karcher, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science who now is at Purdue University, and Janice Siegford, a professor in the Department of Animal Science, worked with a team of researchers to delay the entry of young hens that haven’t begun to lay eggs into laying facilities. This is a strategy to minimize disease outbreaks such as avian influenza.

These are just a few examples of the M-AAA impacts which have been met with overwhelmingly positive responses from producers. However, without the continued support from the state of Michigan, we simply cannot continue to do this work.  

Maintaining the health, vitality and strength of our animal agriculture industry has always been a partnership. We hope that it will continue to be as strong as it has been over these past five years, thanks to restored funding from the state of Michigan, and the continued support from our industry partners and colleagues at MSU.

George Smith
Associate Director, MSU AgBioResearch
Associate Dean for Research, MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Ronald Bates
Director, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, MSU Extension

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