The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Scenes from Obama’s visit to Michigan

President Barack Obama’s trip to Michigan State University to sign the Agriculture Act of 2014 was a highly orchestrated affair that went off almost exactly on schedule.

According to the White House press pool reports, Obama left the White House on Marine One, his helicopter, at 10:39 a.m. and traveled to Joint Base Andrews for the flight on Air Force One to Lansing.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack answers questions from reporters at Michigan State. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took questions from the traveling press corps during the flight, repeating many of the points he made at a briefing on USDA’s climate change efforts earlier in the week, the White House press pool report said.

He led off his remarks by discussing the benefits of the farm bill, similar to his comments in the briefing earlier in the week. He said it is the most significant bill for rural America in quite some time.

Vilsack also discussed the “Made in Rural America” campaign that Obama announced earlier in the day.

(See story below)

The president and his entourage landed in Lansing at 12:12 p.m., three minutes ahead of schedule, to encounter 14 degree temperatures. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero welcomed Obama at the airport.

President Barack Obama tours Michigan Biotechnology Institute with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Lansing, Mich., on Friday. (White House/Pete Souza)

Visit to Michigan Biotechnology Institute

From the airport, Obama and Vilsack traveled to the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, founded in 1981 as nonprofit company funded initially by state, federal and private foundation investments.

According to its website, in mid-2005 the company now known as MBI International became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Michigan State University Foundation, developing and commercializing sustainable bio-based technologies.

Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon led a tour that demonstrated the company’s projects to take bio-based technologies to commercial scale, according to reporters in the traveling press pool, the only journalists allowed to cover the visit to MBI.

Included on the tour was a project funded by the Energy Department to address the logistical and process challenges of converting agricultural residues (corn stover, wheat straw) to bio-based fuels, chemicals, and animal feeds, the pool report said.

“The cost-effective design and distributed commercial deployment model allows production close to farms, supporting rural economic development and addressing food versus fuel concerns,” the White House said.

Obama wore clear plastic safety glasses as he toured the plant and said for reporters’ benefit that the mulch-like material he was looking at was a byproduct of corn.

“What we’re doing here is finding more efficient ways to convert it into usable pellets that can enhance the feeding of livestock, to a whole host of other things,” the president said.

Obama said the process is “energy efficient and environmentally sound.”

As he and Vilsack checked out a large piece of equipment with gaskets and pressure gauges, the president quipped, “This is a very fancy pressure cooker.”

During the time at MBI, Obama and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Don Graves, a senior adviser at the National Economic Council, had lunch with Mike Duggan, the newly elected mayor of financially and economically troubled Detroit.

A White House official later told reporters that Obama and Duggan had discussed “efforts we are making to work to break down barriers and direct existing resources to support local priorities that bring jobs, innovation and opportunity into the city.”

“They also discussed creating ladders of opportunity for residents of Detroit; pathways to help residents get quality healthcare, good paying jobs and to try new approaches to growing businesses and creating economic opportunity.”

The official said Obama reiterated his administration’s long-term commitment to partnering with the mayor and local leaders to support the economic revitalization of Detroit, “so that this iconic American city remains strong and vibrant.”

Chris Adamo, the Senate Agriculture Committee staff director, talks to some of those waiting for the farm bill signing ceremony to begin. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

Crowd gathers for speech

Meanwhile, a crowd that university police estimated at 500 arrived at Michigan State’s McPhail Equine Performance Center.

The 9,000-square-foot arena decorated with an American flag, John Deere and Ford tractors, and a display of the fruits and vegetables that Stabenow has championed in the farm bill.

The Spartan Beeboppers, a jazz band made up of MSU faculty members, played for the crowd as they waited.

The Spartan Beeboppers, a jazz band made up of Michigan State University faculty members, plays for the waiting crowd with a background of an American flag, John Deere and Ford farm equipment, and a display of Michigan fruits and vegetables. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

2014_0207_RobertGuenther  2014_0207_PamJohnson_JimZork

Left: Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy of the United Fresh Produce Association came from Washington. Right: National Corn Growers Association Chairman Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa, meets Michigan Corn Growers President Jim Zork. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

There were a few national farm leaders in attendance, notably Robert Guenther of the United Fresh Produce Association and National Corn Growers Chairman Pam Johnson, an Iowan who was president of the association during much of the farm bill debate.

Also present was David Berg, president and CEO of American Crystal Sugar, the North Dakota-Minnesota co-op, who represented the American Sugar Alliance.

The National Farmers Union, a Democratic-leaning organization, was represented by Michigan Farmers Union President Bob Thompson.

Most of the audience appeared to be Michigan residents, although the ceremony attracted an unusually large number of reporters for an agriculture event.

Print reporters work at their tables ...


... While at right, while a large contingent of news cameras waits for the president. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

Obama departs

Obama arrived at Michigan State at 1:55 p.m., gave his speech, signed the bill, posed for pictures, shook some hands and left for the airport at 2:59 p.m.

At 3:20 p.m., according to the pool report, “The president and aides boarded the plane in the frigid, gusting wind,” preparing for takeoff at 3:29 p.m., 14 minutes late, according to the schedule.

Air Force One landed at Andrews at 4:40 p.m., and “the president, without a topcoat, boarded Marine One and lifted off at 4:54 pm,” the pool report concluded.


Air Force One departs from Capital City Airport in Lansing, Mich., Friday afternoon after President Barack Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)