Great Sphinx corn maze on Jacob's Farm near Traverse City.
Jacob's Farm / screen shot YouTube

Each year, tens of thousands of Michiganders flock to nearby farms to make their way through mazes made of corn stalks.

The idea of a maze made of maize began in the early 1990s in Pennsylvania.

According to Lebanon Valley College, farmer Don Frantz created the first American corn maze to attract visitors to his farm:

Schwallier's Country Basket /

Honeycrisp harvest is underway in Michigan.

The many fans of Honeycrisp apples will be happy to learn that all signs point to a fine crop this year.

But that good news presents new challenges for Michigan growers.

Much of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, found that continuous exposure to very low doses of the herbicide Roundup might be linked to liver and kidney damage.

The researchers looked at how genes changed in rats that were given a commercial Roundup formulation containing 0.1 parts per billion of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) over a two-year period.

The changing role of women in farming

Sep 3, 2015
Brian Peshek

During the 1970s and 80s, America lost millions of family farms. Agriculture was specializing, and getting bigger —   large dairies and croplands; monocultures of corn and soybeans.

Since then, there have been other changes: the local food movement, for example. And women have taken a bigger role in agriculture.

The number of farms owned and operated by women has tripled in the U.S. in recent decades.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Supporters of a proposed state sales tax hike are taking their campaign to Michigan’s farmers.

Tuesday, Michigan voters will decide on a ballot proposal that will increase the state sales tax from 6% to 7%. Most of the money raised through the ballot question will go to fix Michigan’s roads. 

Governor Snyder met yesterday with agri-business leaders in Genesee County to make his pitch for the May 5th vote. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes farmers can do more to combat climate change. 

He spoke to an audience of farmers and agri-business leaders this afternoon at Michigan State University.

Vilsack says farmers are very familiar with the effects of climate change.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The nation’s top agriculture official will be in East Lansing later today to unveil a new plan for dealing with climate change.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be on the Michigan State University campus. 

Double Up Food Bucks program gets boost from USDA

Apr 6, 2015
Chuk Nowak / Fair Food Network

The Fair Food Network says it will use a $5.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks program.

The program helps residents receiving food assistance benefits purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables through a dollar matching system.

The value of all the hogs, milk, corn, fruits and vegetables Michigan exported to other countries has doubled since 2006; going from just under a billion dollars, to an estimated $3.5 billion in 2013. The estimates come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

field of hay with red barn
Flickr user Julie Falk / Flickr

This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama's trip to Michigan State University where he signed the massive, almost $1 trillion U.S. Farm Bill into law.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

BLISSFIELD, Mich. (AP) - A former canning company site in southeastern Michigan has been selected as the future home of an agricultural history museum.

  The Daily Telegram of Adrian reports that the Blissfield Village Council approved leasing land to the Agricultural Awareness & Preservation Museum board of directors.

the nyerges family
Courtesy of Jane-Ann Nyerges

It's been over 40 years since the Michigan Chemical Corporation/Velsicol made a catastrophic mistake that affected millions of Michigan residents.

The company from St. Louis, Michigan, shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to the Farm Bureau Service instead of a nutritional supplement. That chemical was PBB or polybrominated biphenyl.

PBB was mixed into livestock feed, but it took a year to discover the accident. Millions of consumers ate contaminated milk, meat, and eggs during this time.

Jane-Ann Nyerges was one of the farming families whose lives were changed after the PBB contamination.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s apple and cherry growers are happy with this year’s crop.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for apple growers. They had the worst year on record two years ago because of an early freeze. But they had the best year on record last fall, despite a major labor shortage.

Andrea Church / Morguefile

Whistleblowers in Michigan could earn up to a $5,000 reward if their tip leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the abuse of farm animals. The Humane Society of the United States has launched a national tip line where callers can report animal abuse at farms, slaughterhouses or livestock auctions.

Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, says as a result of their undercover investigations, they have found animal abuse at factory farms and slaughterhouses is rampant in the U.S.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

  TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Farmers in five northern Lower Peninsula counties are getting a dispensation from Michigan to shoot deer as a way to reduce damage to their fruit trees and other crops.

  The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has approved the hunts in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.

  Farmers have received special allowance for years under the Deer Management Assistance Permit, but only during normal hunting seasons.

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

While we were begging for winter to end, the Michigan Apple Committee was happy for the cold temperatures.

As a result, the 2014 Michigan apple crop is expected to be 28.74 million bushels. That’s about 435 million apple pies.

Diane Smith, executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said that apple trees like the cold winter. The past lengthy winter allowed for the trees to stay dormant, and not wake too early before the spring.

“The apples look beautiful, there aren't any issues, and everything’s coming along the right way,” Said Smith.

*Listen to the full interview with Diane Smith above. 

Wikimedia Commons

Get this, 75% of the nation's tart cherries are grown in Michigan, most of that in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

But every year the industry that brings us cherry pies and the Traverse City Cherry Festival faces restrictions set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ron French, the Senior Writer for Bridge Magazine, said because so many tart cherries are grown in such a small area, the weather can greatly affect the crop. So the USDA puts a limit on the percentage of Michigan's tart cherry crop that can be sold so prices don't swing too dramatically.

“The result of that is that in some years as much as one half or more in cherries produced in Michigan is left rotting on the ground,” French said.

Most growers favor restrictions, but one food processing company in Elk Rapids is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

French said Elk Rapids is hoping to remove the restrictions on cherries completely.


All this week, we’ve been talking about the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater in Michigan.

The upshot of our reports:

  1. Arsenic levels in Michigan’s groundwater can be high.
  2. Arsenic is bad for you.
  3. Scientists are finding health effects at lower exposure levels.
  4. If you’re on a well, test it for arsenic.
  5. If the levels are high, you should consider doing something about it.

This one chart published by the Center for Public Integrity shows you why (the blue bar is arsenic):

Josh Larios / Wikimedia

Recent changes in the Michigan right-to farm requirements have drawn criticisms from those worried it may curtail their ability to keep bees, chickens, or other farm animals in their backyards.

But are these changes as threatening to urban farming as detractors fear?

Writer Anna Clark has looked into the revisions in the right-to farm requirements and she believes the answer is “no.”

*Listen to the full show above.

Health officials suspect undercooked ground beef.
user i believe i can fry / Flickr

State health officials say they're working with health departments in Kent, Livingston, Oakland, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties to investigate a cluster of recent illnesses due to the bacteria E. coli O157.

The state Department of Community Health and the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Wednesday that the suspected source of the bacteria is ground beef.

More from the MDCH press release:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Climate change is making Michigan farmers more vulnerable to dramatic weather shifts, according to a new report.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released a report this morning claiming climate change is no longer a future threat but is a reality now.

Shawn Malone / UP Second Wave

With its rocky soil, thick forests and painfully short growing season, the Upper Peninsula is never going to look like Iowa or Kansas – and that's okay. For more than a century, a hardy batch of growers and livestock farmers have managed to survive and prosper in these less-than-ideal conditions. Thanks to new technologies and some decidedly low-tech solutions, the U.P.'s latest generation of ag workers are more productive than ever. Ultimately, the fruits of their labor may be felt – and tasted – far beyond the region's borders.

Age-Old Limitations
If you're a U.P. native, you don't need an advanced degree to understand why agriculture is challenging here. But Alger County MSU Extension Director Jim Isleib has one, so people tend to listen to his thoughts on this issue. "Poor soils and a short growing season – that about sums it up," he says. 

A farm in southeast Michigan.
Wikimedia Commons

LANSING – A new network aims to connect farmers, food processors, and food service directors as part of an effort to increase the amount of Michigan-produced food served in institutions.

The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the nonprofit Ecology Center environmental group on Thursday announced the launch of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network.

Organizers want schools, child care centers, hospitals, colleges and universities to get 20 percent of their food products from Michigan growers, producers and processors by 2020. The Center for Regional Food Systems says food service directors have expressed interest in the idea.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center is working with Michigan hospitals on the effort. A campaign called "Cultivate Michigan" aims to help institutions reach the goal.

cygnus921 / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to give honeybees more and better-quality food in the Midwest.

Dan Zay is a biologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan. He says the agency hopes a better variety of high-quality flowering plants will help honeybees rebound from major population losses over the last eight years.

“It’s said that one in three mouthfuls of food and drink that we consume involves the efforts of honeybees,” Zay said.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

About 500 people packed a Michigan State University campus hall Friday to witness President Barack Obama sign the new federal farm bill.

The event capped years of negotiations and some tough compromises with Congress on the complex legislation. President Obama said he’s always glad to return to Michigan to cheer the auto industry recovery. Now, he says, it’s time to do the same for agriculture and rural America.

White House

President Obama travels to Michigan today where he will sign the nation’s new farm bill into law.

The new law will change the way the federal government aids the nation’s farmers.

The president is signing the nearly $1 trillion farm bill into law on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

U.S. Sen.Debbie Stabenow of Michigan expects Congress will take up the farm bill this week.

Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.  She’s been working on passing a farm bill for more than a year.

“This is very complicated,” says Stabenow. “(It) covers everything from bioenergy, production agriculture, trade, conservation, nutrition – all kinds of things. We’re very close.”

There have been numerous disputes holding up the bill. Disagreement over funding for food assistance programs has been the major stumbling block.

Much of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been seven years since America hit the accelerator on corn-based ethanol fuels. Homegrown corn became the centerpiece of a push to find an alternative to foreign oil.

President Bush signed this expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, promising it would make us “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But, as is so often the case, something that offers great promise on one hand, takes its toll on the other hand. So the view of corn-based ethanol very much depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Governor-elect Rick Snyder at the Michigan Farm Bureau in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The big, yearly meet up of Michigan farmers is this week in Grand Rapids. The annual Michigan Farm Bureau meeting helps cement policy stances important to agriculture.

There’s dozens of issues up for discussion. Some, like immigration reform and road funding aren’t new issues.

In fact, the poor condition of Michigan’s road was the issue that brought the MFB to fruition back in 1919.