Raysonho / Wikimedia Commons

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Farmers in 20 Michigan counties that had damage from severe hail storms earlier this year are eligible for emergency loans.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced the support Wednesday involving loans from the Farm Service Agency. The hail storms took place between June 10 and Aug. 2. Farmers in the affected counties will have about eight months to apply for emergency loans.

Huron, Jackson, Saginaw and Washtenaw counties were all designated as primary disaster counties.

Sixteen were named contiguous disaster counties and are eligible for the same aid. Those are the counties of Bay, Calhoun, Eaton, Genesee, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Lenawee, Livingston, Midland, Monroe, Oakland, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Tuscola and Wayne.

courtesy photo

From urban farming in Detroit, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, to farmers markets in hundreds of Michigan cities, this state prides itself on its agriculture.

And we should.

We are the most agriculturally diverse state, behind only California. And after manufacturing, agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

But when you see that Michigan seal on apples and blueberries and cherries in the grocery store, do you ever wonder who are the faces and voices behind these products?

This week, we’ll hear from these farm workers that bring these fruits and vegetables to our tables.

We’ll hear about the struggle for fair wages, good housing and how the immigration debate can affect the lives of the 94,000 migrant workers and their families in Michigan.

This week, I will post segments from my documentary that will air Wednesday on Stateside.

It’s called “Voices from the fields: a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

Let’s start by introducing you to a migrant farm worker I met.

Michigan apple farmers desperate for pickers

Oct 5, 2013
MI Farm Bureau

The Michigan Farm Bureau is appealing across the eastern U.S. for help with finding workers to harvest the state's bumper crop of apples.

The organization sent "help wanted" postcards this week to more than 300 registered farm labor contractors, mostly in Florida and Georgia.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Rob Steffens palms a Fuji apple nearly the size of a softball in the middle of his 280-acre apple orchard near Sparta in Kent County’s “fruit ridge.”

“This block here is really going to pick heavy this year,” Steffens says, smiling at a row of stubby trees. The branches are heavy with near ripe fruit.

“This is just gorgeous size fruit on here,” he said. “It’s going to be a real shame if we can’t get this crop harvested and in the barn.”

Steffens is just one of many apple growers scrambling to take care of what’s potentially the biggest crop in Michigan’s history.

user tami.vroma / Flickr

The end of summer is at hand and we wanted to find out how the year treated Michigan farmers so far.

They were slammed in 2012 by a cold, wet spring and a hot, dry summer.

Earlier this summer we spoke with Macomb Township farmer Ken DeCock to see how things were going for him and got mixed reviews. So we wanted to check in with him to get an end-of-summer view.

He joined us today from Boyka's Farm Market in Macomb Township. Tree fruit specialist William Shane with the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center also joined us.

Listen to the full interview above.

Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist /

2013 has become the year America focuses on its farms.

That's because the federal Farm Bill expires at the end of September and the House and Senate are trying to get a new bill passed.

But getting that done has become one of the great legislative challenges of the year.

The House and Senate have each passed their versions and the differences between the two are big.

For one thing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been stripped right out of the House version, while the Senate version calls for cutting about $4 billion from nutrition assistance.

And, what are the differences in the two Farm Bills that really hit home for the farmers of Michigan?

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan State University’s dairy farm is helping the university cut down on its electricity bill. It may also someday help small Michigan farms meet their energy needs.

South of the East Lansing campus, MSU maintains about 180 dairy cows. The cows produce more than milk of course. Now, university researchers have something to do with all that waste.

University officials this week cut the ribbon on an anaerobic digester. The digester takes organic waste and creates methane. The methane can be used to create electricity or meet other energy needs.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s agribusiness leaders are hoping Congress will restore food assistance programs to the 2013 Farm Bill.

House Republicans approved a Farm Bill on Thursday, without any funding for food stamp programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP.

For decades, Congress has approved massive spending bills to help the nation’s farmers and provide help for the poor to buy food. But conservative House members passed a Farm Bill without the food stamp funding.

Jane Doughnut / Creative Commons

This has certainly been a wet and muggy summer.

Michigan farmers endured a hot and dry summer in 2012, so we wondered what the soggy summer of 2013 is doing to crops and to farmers. Is it better than the scorcher of 2012?

Ken DeCock is a third-generation farmer in Macomb Township where his family owns Boyka's Farm Market. He joined us today to give us the farmer's-eye view of our weather.

Listen to the full interview above.

Its official title is the "Senate Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act," but feel free to call it "The 2013 Farm Bill." It was passed last week by the Senate on the wings of strong bipartisan support by a vote of 66-27.

This nearly $1 trillion bill has been over a year and a half in the making. Not only does it slash $24 billion from agriculture programs, but it makes substantial changes in the way the federal government spends on efforts like the federal food assistance program.

To get a sense of what's in the Senate farm bill and how it matters to each of us, we turned to David Schweikhardt. He's a Professor in the Michigan State University Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics, and he joined us in the studio today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan farmers are waiting to see if Congress can reach a deal soon on a new Farm Bill.

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the nearly trillion dollar, five year Farm Bill on Monday. The U.S. House continues to work on its own version of the bill, which funds crop insurance and other programs for farmers, along with food assistance for the needy.

The Farm Bill has been stalled in Congress for more than a year. And that has made it difficult for Michigan farmers to plan for the future.

jamesjyu / via flicker

When we think about food grown in Michigan, many people might assume that Michiganders are the ones who are consuming it.

It turns out we aren't the only ones eating our state's crops.

Michigan is number 17 among other states in agricultural product exportation, but that could increase in the next ten years. 

Jamie Zmitko-Somers is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

jschumacher / Morguefile

Michigan cows are making national headlines. Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition covered a story by Dan Charles on the cattle tracking program in Michigan.

The state of Michigan requires cattle to have electronic ear tags. In fact, it is the only state that requires the tags.

This mattered little to the general public until now. Some farmers are looking at how the tags could help consumers learn more about where meat is from and how it was raised.

Michigan Radio’s Mary Jo Wagner first reported on the tracking system back in 2001. Originally, Michigan started the electronic tracking system in order to monitor cattle for tuberculosis, mad cow disease, and foot-and-mouth disease.

Now, the local food movement and recent exposés on cruelty in the meat industry have given the tags a new use.

Logan Chadde

It has been a good year for maple syrup in Michigan. Farms produced twice the amount of syrup as they did last year, thanks to prime weather conditions that extended the tree-tapping season into April.

Syrup production ended in the Lower Peninsula in early April, and the Upper Peninsula continued production until the end of April. The official numbers of gallons produced will be released in early June. 

All this week, we've been digging into the causes, and perhaps solutions, to the financial troubles facing our schools. As Michigan Radio has been reporting, some 50 public school districts across our state are facing deep deficits. And, for the first time in Ann Arbor history, the school district may have to lay off 50 teachers.

Today we focused on teacher salaries. Just what should determine teacher pay in Michigan?

And, Daniel Howes talked with us about the business community in Detroit.

The brown marmorated stink bug is identified by its antennae and legs.
Rutgers University

The bug looks like this:

2012 was a pretty terrible year for Michigan farmers.

On today's show, we'll take a look at what 2013 has in store, and what it means for the state's economy.

And, a few days before Saint Patrick's Day, we meet a Michigan musician who is immersed in both Irish music and Techno music.

But first, ever since last month when the world was stunned by Pope Benedict the 16's resignation, and today's announcement of a new Pope, religion has been on the minds of many, and that includes  Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst.

We spoke with Jack about the religious views of Michigan's legislators.

user tami.vroma / Flickr

So, we're still here in it.

Stuck in the middle of winter and its hard to think about putting on flip-flops, sunglasses, and heading out for fresh, summer veggies from the farmers market.

But, it seems more and more people are going to farmers markets throughout the year, and paying for their purchases with Bridge cards.

Numbers are out from last year and they show the use of Bridge Cards at farmers markets around the state went up by 42 % in 2012.

Amanda Shreve joined us today. She's the Food Assistance Partnership Coordinator with the Michigan Farmers Market Association.

MSU ANR Communications

There may be snow on the ground but Michigan farmers are facing some important decisions right now about what they will grow this year.

The Michigan Farm Bureau reports that there are concerns about that there may not be enough seasonal laborers available to pick vegetable and other crops this year.    This has been a problem in the past for some asparagus and apple growers. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

You probably know 2012 was just horrible for Michigan’s fruit growers. But new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows it was officially the worst on record since tracking began – in 1925.  

There were only 11.6 million pounds of tart cherries produced in Michigan, usually the nation’s top producer of the fruit. That’s a 92 percent drop from last year’s 157.5 million pounds.

Marty Saffell is a USDA statistician based in the Michigan office in Lansing.

“For some of the fruits like peaches pears plums and cherries there are the majority of the growers had essentially zero crops so there was essentially zero income,” Saffell said.

Saffell says Michigan apple growers had the worst year since 1945.

Mercedes Mejia

The Detroit Planning Commission recently approved a new Urban Agriculture Ordinance. The action takes the city a step closer to officially recognizing the dozens of urban farms and gardens scattered across the city.

The ordinance also defines the kinds of projects that would be allowed, such as farm stands, orchards or greenhouses. Stateside’s Mercedes Mejia reports some residents are experimenting with aquaponic systems. It’s a method of growing crops and fish at the same time.

Noah Link: Over here is our chicken coop. We have about 42 chickens and 4 ducks so far. You can hear the ducks – they’ve awfully loud and hungry probably.

Noah Link is the co-owner of Food Field. He lives and works in the Boston-Edison neighborhood in Detroit. I met up with him on his farm called Food Field. It’s on the site of a former elementary school - imagine a small farm tucked away in the city.

 "So if you go a few blocks one way there are huge historical mansions, and you go a few blocks the other way and it’s all run down old shops, and total poverty, and we’re right in between," he says.

Link and his business partner worked on several farms across the country. They knew it wouldn’t be easy to own a farm, but they’re doing the hard work. On the land are different kinds of crops, chickens, a few beehives, and a young orchard of fruit and nuts trees. There’s also a hoop house to grow vegetables year-round.

"And we’ve just built an aquaponic system to be able to raise fish in there, which I’ll show you."

An aquaponic system is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture - growing plants in water and fish farming.

"And it takes the best of both of those in a self-sustaining system so then rather than having to worry about toxic fish waste to get rid of or keeping it sterile hydroponic environment for your plants, the plants grow out of the waste water from the fish that just get circulated with the pump and they clean out the water to keep it safe for all the fish in the tank," Link says.

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) - A long summer drought has caused a shortage of hay in Michigan and sent prices skyrocketing.

The Detroit News reports Saturday that as a result, farmers, rescue groups and private owners throughout the state are struggling to feed their stocks, cutting budgets, turning to outside help and even leaving Michigan to purchase hay.

Cindy Ashley is the barn manager at Horses' Haven, a Howell-based nonprofit group that cares for aged, abused, rescued and neglected animals.

MSU creating Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Nov 14, 2012

Michigan State University is creating a Global Center for Food Systems Innovation thanks to a 25 million dollar award.

The award comes from US AID, the federal agency overseeing foreign assistance to developing countries.

MSU will fund research targeting improved agriculture production and cost effective, sustainable solutions for developing areas of the world. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A small farming community in West Michigan is celebrating the opening of plant that will turn organic waste into electricity.

Colonies of specialized bacteria will do the bulk of the work.

“The little fellows are just hungry as heck,” said Anand Gangadharan, president of Novi Energy. The company designed and will help manage the new Fremont Community Digester. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the digester’s opening Tuesday.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan farmers face some uncertainty, as a key federal agriculture policy expires at the end of this week.

Congress adjourned before passing a new Farm Bill.  The old federal Farm Bill expires September 30th.

Many programs affecting Michigan farmers will be disrupted if Congress does not agree on a new Farm Bill.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture committee. She worries if the House and Senate don’t reach an agreement the Farm Bill may be lost in the rush to avoid automatic tax increases and budget cuts at the end of the year.

HOLLY, Mich. (AP) - Despite a few hiccups due to some wild weather, Michigan's holiday crops are looking good.

The Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that the state's Christmas tree growers say that while some trees were victims of the weather, it's unlikely to affect consumers.

Pumpkin growers say they're doing well after the drought and heat of the summer.

Grape vines in west Michigan
user rkramer62 / Flickr

2012 will go down as an "annus horribilis" for most fruit-growers in Michigan. Apples, cherries, pears have been hit hard by the big March warm-up followed by a spring frost, then a hot, dry summer.

But if you are a wine producer in Michigan, you might be feeling happier about the weather we've had this year!

Eddie O'Keefe is the President of Chateau Grand Traverse Wines on the beautiful Old Mission Peninsula.

There was a lot of nail biting amongst growers early in the season said Mr. O’Keefe.

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but what do you do when there are no apples? It's a question western Michigan's apple growers are dealing with this season after strange weather earlier in the year decimated the state's apple cultivation.

Michigan is the third-largest apple producer in the U.S. after New York and Washington, but the state's apples will soon be in short supply. Now in the middle of harvest season, growers are picking only 10 percent to 15 percent of their normal crop.

Apple orchards don't just sell apples anymore.
erikadotnet / Flickr

Michiganders  heading to their local cider mills and apple orchards this fall might be surprised by what they find. According to an article by the Detroit Free Press, unprecedented damage to Michigan's apple crop has forced local operations into finding new ways to turn a profit.

Writer Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki reports on the extraordinary steps orchards are taking to offset losses:

"We're a little bit like riverboat gamblers this year," said Pete Blake of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada. They have six attractions this year, instead of the usual one, including more children's activities and a haunted paintball safari.

According to Walsh-Sarnecki, Michigan's apple crop produced just 2 million bushels this year. That's down from the 26 million produced last year.

In order to keep up with customer demand, orchards and ciders mills must pay two to three times normal apple prices. That means higher prices for consumers along with more hay rides, more haunted houses, and, yes, more "haunted paintball safaris."

danielito /

It seems like agriculture in Michigan just can't catch a break. First the drought, now a growing labor shortage.

The industry is desperately seeking highly skilled workers with 4 year degrees. Think supply chain managers or grain market analysts. But these days, not enough college students are going into agriculture.