Dec 17, 2012
Growers will give ag a voice in Michigan Legislature

In November, a vegetable grower and a fruit grower were elected to serve in the Michigan House of Representatives. Roger Victory, who grows vegetables in the Hudsonville area, will represent the state’s 88th district. Dave Pagel, a fruit grower, packer and shipper from Berrien Springs, will represent the 78th district. Both will serve two-year terms, starting Jan. 1.

Roger Victory

Victory, 48, is the first agricultural producer from his home county to serve in the state legislature for more than two decades. This is the first time he’s held an elected office, he said.

“It’s a privilege to serve,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to bring a voice of agriculture that we haven’t had from west Michigan for several years.”

Victory owns Victory Farms in Hudsonville, Mich., which grows and packs hundreds of acres’ worth of winter squash, turnips, parsnips and other crops. His experience as a business owner and farmer should serve him well in representing the 88th district, which is heavily agricultural. The current climate in Michigan’s capital is ripe for moving the state’s business and agricultural sectors forward, he said.

Agriculture is one of the fastest-growing industries in the state, but it’s having a hard time finding and maintaining an adequate number of talented workers. There aren’t enough jobs being filled right now because the number of qualified candidates is limited. What the industry needs is a “steady pipeline of talent” – but much of that will have to be found outside farming communities, because they don’t contain enough young people these days, he said.

Victory would like to see an expansion of the state’s vocational and technical training programs, especially those that can help young people prepare for jobs in agriculture. There are good-paying, interesting jobs on the farm that require skill and technical training, and Michigan’s youth need to know about them, Victory said.

Dave Pagel

Pagel, 58, also wants to be a strong voice for Michigan’s agricultural community.

“I’ve been in agriculture my whole life,” he said. “I have the background to understand the issues that relate to farming, and bring a sense of appreciation for how important agriculture is, and how difficult and risky farming can be.”

He also understands the importance of migrant labor.

“I’d like to change the climate of that conversation from being one of resentment of what migrants detract from society to more of an appreciation for the role they play,” he said.

Other important issues to Pagel include wildlife management, the proper use of wetlands and traceability.

Pagel grew up on the family fruit farm in Berrien Springs, and came back home after studying agriculture and business at Michigan State University. He built up the packing and shipping end of the family business. With financial support from his father, he bought a small cold storage and packing line in 1978. His goal was to better control how the family’s fruit was marketed, he said.

Today, Pagel works with more than 30 growers – storing, packing and selling about 200,000 bushels of apples per year and averaging about $3 million in annual sales. With a small fleet of trucks, he also ships produce to grocery chains in Indiana and metropolitan Chicago, he said.

In 2004, Pagel purchased some land next to his house, and purchased more in 2008. He planted apple orchards on both parcels. With help from his oldest son, Jeremy (he and his wife, Sue, have four children), he grows about 20 acres of apples, which he also packs, he said.

Jeremy is taking on more and more responsibility at the family business these days, which allows Pagel extra time to “play around in politics,” he said.

Pagel started playing around in politics in 1993, when he was elected president of the local school board. The school district was having money problems, and Pagel was “drafted” to help out, he said.

“It was my first exposure to public service, outside of agriculture and church, and I enjoyed it.”

He served on the school board for 14 years. In 2008, he was elected chairman of his county’s board of commissioners. His four-year term will end Dec. 31. The next day, he’ll start his first term as a state legislator.

Running for the Michigan House of Representatives was always in the back of Pagel’s mind, and when the previous representative in the 78th district opted not to run for re-election, he decided it was time to go for it. The late spring frosts that hurt Michigan’s fruit industry this year were bad for business, but the lull gave Pagel more time to campaign and prepare for his new job, he said.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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