All About Jobs

Jun 21, 2011

Senator Debbie Stabenow came to Michigan last weekend, to visit some farms and talk with fruit and vegetable growers. She is, after all, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

For some reason, though agriculture has long been the state’s second biggest industry, those of us not involved in it tend to give it short shrift. So, mostly do our politicians.

Jack Knorek / Oak Moon Farms

Large flocks of sheep are typically found in the Rocky Mountains, California, and Texas.

But there's a growing number of shepherds in Michigan.

There's solid demand for lamb meat from Michigan's ethnic communities. Lamb prices are good. And the farmland in Michigan not suited for traditional crops makes for good pasture.

I visited Jack and Martha Knorek who showed me around their farm during the height of spring lambing season.

The mama ewes were a little camera shy, so unfortunately I didn't get to see a lamb being born. One was born ten minutes before I arrived, and another was born about an hour after I left.

Michigan farmers hope to get their Spring planting season underway this week.  Till now, farmers’ fields have been too wet to plant corn and soy beans

Brown marmorated stink bug.
PSU Dept. of Entomology

The invasive skunk of the insect world has been found in four counties in Michigan.

Here are the counties where the Brown marmorated stink bug has been found:

  • Berrien
  • Eaton
  • Genesee
  • Ingham

If the bug feels threatened, or if you squish it, this stink bug... stinks.

But the damage it can do to crops is what has officials in Michigan worried.

The PSU Department of Entomology says the Brown marmorated stink bug damages fruit and vegetable crops by sucking plant fluids through its beak.

A piece in estimated the damage it could do:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year looked at the potential damage to crops. Topping the list was the country's $2.2 billion apple industry. Michigan's share is $115 million worth, or 590 million pounds of apples harvested each year.

"I have these growers telling me that they fear this might be the worst pest in a generation for orchards," said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, which represents the state's apple industry.

The bug has proven it can resist pesticides, so what's to be done?

Sabri Ben-Achour filed a report for NPR on how some researchers are looking into using foreign wasps to fight the bug:

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Trissolcus wasps are from China, Japan and Korea. The same place where the invasive stink bug came from. The wasps are natural enemies of the Brown marmorated stink bug, so researchers want to know if they can release them in the U.S. without harming other native stink bugs that are beneficial.

The researchers say it will take them three years to find out. In the meantime, some farmers will continue to try to fight the bug with pesticides - Ben-Achour reports some farmers are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations.

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Apr 28, 2011

Home is where the heart is. It's also probably where a lot of stink bugs are right now, crawling out from cracks and crevices. They were introduced into Allentown, Pa., from Asia in the 1990s and have been spreading ever since, reaching seemingly plaguelike proportions in the mid-Atlantic states. But an experiment is under way to reintroduce the stink bug to its mortal enemy: a parasitic Asian wasp.

Debbie Stabenow maintains a lead over Pete Hoekstra in a new Michigan poll.
Office of Senator Stabenow

Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow says the future of the Michigan economy depends on a strong auto and manufacturing base, as well as agriculture:

“You can’t have an economy in this country unless you make things and grow things. And the fundamental part in making things really is the auto industry and manufacturing. ”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It’s planting time for many Michigan farmers.  In addition to the weather, farmers are closely watching fuel prices this Spring.   

The price of fuel affects practically every aspect of farming in Michigan, from the cost of the diesel in the tractor to the price of the fertilizer on the fields.  Bob Boehm is the director of the commodities department for the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says fuel costs are between 7% to 15% of the average Michigan farm’s budget, but may be higher this year.  

Michigan wine: Success in a bottle

Mar 28, 2011
Flickr user farlane /

As we continue our “What’s Working” series this week, Christina Shockley sits down to speak with Linda Jones, the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Over the past decade, the wine industry in Michigan has grown ten to fifteen percent each year, with most of the wine being produced in the southwest and northwest regions of the Lower Peninsula.

With 14,600 acres of vineyards, Michigan ranks fourth amongst all states in grape production. Most of these grapes are used to make juices, but about 2,000 acres of vineyards are devoted solely to wine grape production, making Michigan the eighth largest producer of wine grapes. Ms. Jones says that when we talk about Michigan’s wine industry, we are really talking about the grape industry as well.

“They’re an integrated function. Many of the wineries in Michigan grow their own fruit. And our program is housed in the Michigan Department of Agriculture because wine is really an exemplary industry for value-added agriculture, meaning you take a crop that is grown here in Michigan and you add value to it on the farm property and attract customers to come and visit you, and that translates into a huge economic boom for that area when you can do that.”   

In a state that has seen its industries and population decline in the past decade, Michigan’s wine industry has continued to grow steadily. Jones says this is because wine production incorporates two of Michigan’s strongest assets.

“It combines our second and third largest industries: agriculture and tourism. Michigan is a long-standing fruit-producing state, especially on the west side of the state, but increasingly throughout Michigan we are planting wine grapes with new varieties that are being developed.”

But Michigan isn’t just good at growing fruit because we’ve been doing it for centuries. The climate in Michigan is particularly well-suited for growing grapes, says Jones.

farming equiptment
Helen Hanley / creative commons

Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.

The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.

"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "

At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.

Photo courtesy of Hantz Farms

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.
Craig Camp / flickr

Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom

The Michigan Farm Bureau is starting a six month series to educate farmers about laws that apply to migrant workers and youth labor. Michigan’s agriculture industry is dependent on migrant labor. The industry is still dealing with the effect of a harsh report on worker conditions by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Hannah Stevens is with Michigan State University Extension, one of the sponsors of the series.

In agriculture it’s complicated because there immigration issues there’s housing issue, you know, so many regulatory agencies that look closely at management of labor.  I think particularly it’s a sensitive topic.

Stevens says that pressure to comply with labor laws is also coming from retailers.

The retail stores, Meijer’s and Walmart’s and all these, are beginning to demand that there’s certain responsibility that growers have in terms of managing their workforce. They may reject Michigan produce if they don’t feel that’s being handled correctly. That may put growers in a very awkward position.

The farm bureau expects only about 25% of growers in the state will attend their seminars. The seminars will run from February to July.

David Lance / USDA APHIS

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of invasive brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) in two Michigan counties. The bugs were discovered by students from Michigan State University.

Jennifer Holton is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. She says the bugs can do damage to the types of fruits and vegetables grown in Michigan. The damage makes them difficult to sell. 

And what is does is... a little bit of character distortion on the fruit, what they refer to as cat facing, and that makes the fruit, or the vegetable, if there may be one, unmarketable for the fresh market.

You can find more information about identifying BMSB at the Michigan Department of Agriculture website.

Holton also suggested never moving firewood and to contact your local Michigan State University extension office if you think you found a brown marmorated stink bug.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Prima Civitas Foundation / Flickr

The Michigan Department of Agriculture is, now, officially the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Governor Rick Snyder announced in November that he would make the change.  He signed an order, yesterday, making it official.

The Associated Press reports, "the governor says the new name is 'a clear signal' his administration plans to help the agriculture industry grow so rural areas gain new and better jobs."

Governor Snyder appointed Keith Creagh to head the Department. Creagh used to be the Department's deputy director.

In a statement released yesterday, Creagh said:

Agriculture today is a high tech industry that relies on trained professionals with knowledge of the newest methods from biology and chemistry to packing and shipping. Expanding educational opportunities will give Michigan's agricultural producers a competitive edge and ensure jobs are available for recent graduates who want to stay in their home communities.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

President Obama is expected today to sign legislation to improve the nation’s food safety.  The new law will put more regulations on Michigan farmers. 

2010 ended with national recalls of parsley, alfalfa sprouts and cilantro because of possible salmonella contamination.  The recalls were just the latest problems that prompted Congress to revamp the nation’s food safety system. The changes include better tracking of all kinds of food, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate.  

A farm in Michigan
Maureen Reilly - flickr user

Update 2:38 p.m.:

There are more declarations of natural disaster areas in the state of Michigan. The 21 counties I wrote about below were for "excessive heat" disasters. The USDA has also issued natural disaster declarations for frost (the excessive cold occurred from March 1st through May 16th), AND for storms and rain.

The 32 counties that received the frost declarations can be found this FEMA page.

Lynn Davis, Farm Drainage in Ohio
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A few years back, we at the Environment Report did a comprehensive series called, "The Ten Threats to the Great Lakes." Doing our best to make it comprehensive, we broke each of the Ten Threats into several stories.

We joked that the "Ten Threats" series turned into a 33-part series as we dug deeper into the issues.

For the series, I traveled to northwest Ohio and met with Lynn Davis. His grandfather had started a farm drainage business in 1910 using a steam powered trenching machine. Davis later took over the business from his father and uncle.

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

Governor-elect Rick Snyder spoke to members of Michigan’s Farm Bureau Tuesday evening.

Snyder told the crowd he’s preparing to start Michigan’s era of innovation next month. “You’re on the forefront of that. People don’t understand how innovative you are and all the efforts you do. Whether it’s increasing yields or being more environmentally sound or all the great practices. ”

Actress at the Michigan State Fair
Bob Vigiletti / Michigan Radio Picture Project

There's a new post on Michigan Radio's Picture Project site.  Bob Vigiletti has eighteen beautiful shots taken in the waning years of the Michigan State Fair.  The fair, proclaimed to be the country's oldest, was closed because of declining attendance and revenues in 2009. Vigiletti writes:

It is only through out thoughts and photographs that we preserve and cherish memories of the past.

Volunteers at Sema Cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Myra Klarman

(by Rebecca Williams with The Environment Report)

So what would you think about opening up your home to 120 people every week? Letting them come in with their shoes on, sit anywhere they wanted. Oh, and by the way, they’ll be expecting a full breakfast.

That’s what happens at Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb’s house in Ann Arbor. From 6:30 to 10am every Friday, their house is transformed. It’s kind of weird. You walk in and you know you’re in someone’s home, but it feels like you’re suddenly in a little diner.