Michigan farmers talk about the future of agriculture industry

Aug 22, 2011

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senator Debbie Stabenow visited a farm in West Michigan Monday to discuss how to expand the agriculture industry.

Stabenow is chairwoman the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“We all have a stake in our farmers doing well because we all have a stake in having food security, in making sure we have wholesome, American grown, Michigan grown food for us.”

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry. Michigan farmers grow the most diverse crops of any state except California.

Stabenow says there’s room to grow Michigan’s agriculture industry in bio-technology. Farmers expressed concerns about finding enough workers to harvest their crops and keeping young people interested in the farming business.

Vilsack anticipates this will be the best year for farm income in U.S. history. That doesn’t surprise Jim May. He hosted the gathering in his barn in Sparta. He grows apples, alfalfa, corn and soybeans on a 1,000 acre farm 20 miles north of Grand Rapids.

“Agriculture is doing things. Industry is not.”

Vilsack says there’s more demand for locally grown food and food exports.

One of the biggest challenges is finding enough low-paid seasonal workers to harvest crops. In order to get those workers into country, Vilsack says there needs to be a legal process farmers can follow.

“(A process) that gets us to a place where we actually have a stabile, secure workforce that allows us to have the people to do the work and allows us to keep food costs reasonable.”