agriculture

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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 / MorgueFile.com

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.

http://www.aec.msu.edu

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 / 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.

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