agriculture

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 / http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/170485

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. 

user farlane / flickr

This year was one of the worst harvests for tart cherries in recorded history. That’s a hard hit considering Michigan is the nation’s largest producer of the fruit.

We visited the Leelanau Peninsula where one family-owned cherry farm has transitioned into a vineyard in order to make more money.

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

The great loss of cherries

Earlier this month, most of the counties in Michigan were designated disaster areas for agriculture. Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the nation, and this year, the state lost 90 percent of its crop.

Ben LaCross is one of the many farmers who is trying to cope in what is known to be the Cherry Capital of the world. He manages 750 acres of cherries in Leelanau County, just outside Traverse City.

William Schmitt / Flickr

Fruit growers and processors in Michigan might get some help in the form of low interest loans if an expected package of bills moves through the legislature.

The loans are aimed at providing relief to those who lost most of their fruit crops after an unusual spring warm spell was followed by extended freezing temperatures.

MLive reports Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Keith Creagh said today the bills would create "five-year low interest loans":

The loans, which will be administered by banks and agricultural lenders, will meet an estimated total economic need of some $300 million in the state’s fruit growing and processing industry, Creagh said while attending the Michigan Food Processing and Agribusiness Summit.

Securing the loan guarantees at a low interest rate of 1 percent or 2 percent could cost the state about $15 million, Creagh said. The 5-year loans would be structured so borrowers would only pay interest in the first two years, he said.

Creagh says he'll also seek federal financial support for Michigan fruit growers and processors.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

National unemployment numbers released this morning

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment numbers this morning. The unemployment rate "was little changed at 8.1 percent."

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 for the month of April.

As Mark Memmott at NPR's Two-Way blog points out, "the economy needs to add more than 115,000 jobs a month to bring down the unemployment rate." So why the decline?

Mostly because the size of the "civilian labor force" shrank by 342,000 people, to 154.4 million. And the labor force "participation rate" edged down to 63.6 percent from 63.8 percent.

Assesing Michigan's fruit crop, worst in history

The fruit crop in Michigan got bitten by the bizarre weather. High temperatures in March brought the blossoms out, and freezes and frosts in April killed emerging buds.

More from the AP:

Farmers and extension agents say the one-two punch has all but wiped out the tart cherry crop, while other orchard fruits such as sweet cherries, apples, pears and peaches have suffered extensive damage. Juice grapes are another casualty.

Fifty-four-year-old David Rabe of Oceana County says he's been farming nearly all his life and has never seen it this bad. Only his asparagus may survive.

Flooding after rains move through the state

The flooding has caused problems for drivers this morning. Some roads in the Detroit and Flint areas have been closed.

The AP reports that both directions of I-75 at I-696 in suburban Detroit were closed today as the morning rush hour period approached.

A flash flood warning was issued for the Flint area, including Genesee and Shiawassee, counties due to the storm.

The National Weather Service has issued flood advisories, watches and warnings for parts of Michigan's Lower Peninsula following the storms.

More from the Flint Journal:

Hit with more than 5 inches of rain overnight, the county's creeks, streams and drains are swelling as residents cope with their own localized flooding this morning.

The National Weather Service said today that 5.4 inches of rain fell overnight, almost twice as much as the area usually gets in the entire month of May.

"It's bad everywhere," said county Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright. "The whole county got hit pretty well."

The 5.4 inches of rain recorded at Bishop overnight surpassed the total, normal monthly rainfall total for a typical month of May -- 3 inches.

screenshot / HBO

Michigan farmer and environmental activist Lynn Henning appeared on the Earth Day edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (video below).

Henning is known in Michigan as a thorn in the side of large scale animal farms - also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

I first met Henning back in 2006 in Hudson, Michigan when I did a story about CAFOs and water pollution.

I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.

It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.

And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.

It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.

Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.

In 2010, Henning was given a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her grassroots activism. From the Goldmand Prize website:

Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.

She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

A new Michigan State University study shows Michigan’s agriculture industry has grown dramatically throughout the recession.

Agriculture contributed a little more than $91.4 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2010. The economic impact of farming, food processing and the supply chain is twice as much as it was in 2004.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Lake Express / Creative Commons

Michigan’s asparagus season has started early because of the warmer than usual weather this spring. But farmers are worried they don’t have enough workers to harvest the crop.

“Being a former migrant worker I can tell you that in the past Michigan has had a wealth of workers coming to Michigan. It was destination state,” Belen Ledezma said. She’s the Director of Migrant, Immigrant and Seasonal Worker Services for the Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency. 

Ledezma says the huge crop diversity in Michigan means migrant workers have a variety of jobs to choose from throughout the year. But this year farmers are struggling to find enough workers to harvest. “I think we’re starting to recognize that the same labor pool that we’re used to is no longer coming to Michigan,” Ledezma said.

Ledezma says the state is trying to help farmers recruit local workers to harvest asparagus. Her agency will host a job fair in southwest Michigan on Thursday in hopes of filling more than 220 immediate openings on asparagus farms.

Bob Vigiletti / Michigan Radio Picture Project

In 2009, Michigan hosted its last state fair after 161 years.

It was the second oldest in the country. But the event was losing too much money. Between 1970 and 1995, the fair lost on average 2 million dollars a year. Attendance was down 39 percent over the final eight years. In 2009, Governor Granholm ended all state financing.

Since then, not much has happened with the Fairgrounds. On Monday, Governor Snyder will sign bills which will authorize the state to sell the property. The 157 acre property is located just south of Woodward Avenue. Any money made from the sale of the Fairgrounds will be added to the state’s general fund.

William Schmitt / Flickr

After a highly unusual prolonged warm spell in the state, cold weather returned to northern Michigan putting Michigan's cherry crop at risk.

More from the Associated Press:

Phil Korson of the Cherry Marketing Institute says it probably will take another few weeks to determine the extent of the damage. But he says every time temperatures drop into the 20s, there will be crop damage.

Temperatures shot into the 80s for five consecutive March days in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. That caused trees to bloom early. But things quickly returned to normal. The National Weather Service says Leelanau County has had six nights below freezing and three nights in the 20s since the warmup.

The Michigan Farm Bureau says millions of buds froze at their most vulnerable development stage.

Growers say they hope to salvage a decent crop.

This past February, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen reported on concerns about the changing climate and its effect on fruit trees in northern Michigan.

In his report, Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate, Allen spoke with Duke Elsner. As an agricultural extension agent for more than 20 years in the Traverse City area, Elsner told Allen this past winter has been the "most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen."

Growers were worried back in February about what happened this week, a frost after cherry trees blossomed.

Allen spoke with Jeff Andresen, the state’s climatologist and a professor of geology at Michigan State:

Andresen’s research shows an overall increase in temperatures of two degrees statewide in the last thirty years.

That’s pushing fruit trees to blossom earlier by as much as a week to ten days.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the last date of spring frost also was shifting earlier to keep pace. But it’s not.

That means the buds that produce the fruit are more exposed to the kind of freeze that wiped out the cherry crop in 2002.

Growers are tallying up the damage after the recent hard freeze.

We'll have more on how the cherry crop is doing in a story from Bob Allen on next week's Environment Report.

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