MDARD director shares how partnerships power Michigan

Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, believes collaborations with Michigan State University are key for the future of agriculture in the state.

Gary McDowell
Gary McDowell, MDARD director

From his days growing up on a family farm in the Upper Peninsula to his current role as director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD)Gary McDowell has always had an affinity for Michigan agriculture.

He’s also keenly aware of the collaboration necessary for the industry’s success.

“We all need to work together in order to sustain Michigan food and agriculture, to continue to grow and to look toward the future, whether that’s addressing environmental challenges or changing technology and the need to feed a growing world population,” he said.

MDARD is a key partner in the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture (M-AAA) and Project GREEEN. Leaders from MDARD serve on their boards to review grants and discuss priorities and funding. In addition, the combined knowledge and resources at MDARD and Michigan State University (MSU) help create a robust agriculture industry in the state.

“The work at M-AAA and Project GREEEN can help all Michigan food and agriculture to continue to grow and to continue to be a significant driver of our economy in the state of Michigan,” McDowell said.

According to MDARD, Michigan’s livestock industry, which M-AAA supports, has an annual economic impact of $4.73 billion. Project GREEEN supports 1,186 jobs in plant-based agriculture each year, on average.

McDowell believes MDARD’s collaborations with M-AAA and Project GREEEN put Michigan in a position to approach the future of agriculture with confidence.

Why is an organization like MSU AgBioResearch valuable to MDARD? 

MDARD staff members are primarily regulators, not researchers. That’s where we find partnerships with MSU so valuable. The expert researchers at MSU help provide vital insight and expertise that feed our regulatory programs. It’s only through this collaboration that we are able to find real solutions to the growing list of issues affecting Michigan’s food and farming community.

What are the most exciting advancements in the world of agriculture? 

Probably technology. It’s amazing to me to see how agriculture has advanced in my lifetime.

How does a partnership between MSU and MDARD allow Michigan to be at the forefront of research advancements?

MSU’s research on water quality in the Lake Erie watershed is vital to the future of our state’s agriculture. It’s part of what allows MSU to conduct further cutting-edge research to advance the food and ag sector here in Michigan and shows what we can do when we work together. The project, led by Dr. Eshan Ghane, looks at two drainage conservation systems. One is controlled drainage, the practice of managing water by storing it in the field; the second is saturated buffers, which filter water through the soil by diverting drainage from the field into buffer soil at the edge of the drain bank. 

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I love when I have opportunities to get out in the field and see firsthand what’s happening in Michigan food and agriculture. I’m just amazed by the agricultural diversity across the state. Early last fall, we did an agritourism tour, where we went around to different businesses across the state to see what they’re doing and how they are adding value to their farm products. The innovation of Michigan farmers impresses me. It’s great to see it in person.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

Did you find this article useful?


You Might Also Be Interested In