agriculture

the nyerges family
Courtesy of Jane-Ann Nyerges

It's been over 40 years since the Michigan Chemical Corporation/Velsicol made a catastrophic mistake that affected millions of Michigan residents.

The company from St. Louis, Michigan, shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to the Farm Bureau Service instead of a nutritional supplement. That chemical was PBB or polybrominated biphenyl.

PBB was mixed into livestock feed, but it took a year to discover the accident. Millions of consumers ate contaminated milk, meat, and eggs during this time.

Jane-Ann Nyerges was one of the farming families whose lives were changed after the PBB contamination.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s apple and cherry growers are happy with this year’s crop.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for apple growers. They had the worst year on record two years ago because of an early freeze. But they had the best year on record last fall, despite a major labor shortage.

Andrea Church / Morguefile

Whistleblowers in Michigan could earn up to a $5,000 reward if their tip leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the abuse of farm animals. The Humane Society of the United States has launched a national tip line where callers can report animal abuse at farms, slaughterhouses or livestock auctions.

Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, says as a result of their undercover investigations, they have found animal abuse at factory farms and slaughterhouses is rampant in the U.S.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

  TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Farmers in five northern Lower Peninsula counties are getting a dispensation from Michigan to shoot deer as a way to reduce damage to their fruit trees and other crops.

  The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has approved the hunts in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.

  Farmers have received special allowance for years under the Deer Management Assistance Permit, but only during normal hunting seasons.

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

While we were begging for winter to end, the Michigan Apple Committee was happy for the cold temperatures.

As a result, the 2014 Michigan apple crop is expected to be 28.74 million bushels. That’s about 435 million apple pies.

Diane Smith, executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said that apple trees like the cold winter. The past lengthy winter allowed for the trees to stay dormant, and not wake too early before the spring.

“The apples look beautiful, there aren't any issues, and everything’s coming along the right way,” Said Smith.

*Listen to the full interview with Diane Smith above. 

Wikimedia Commons

Get this, 75% of the nation's tart cherries are grown in Michigan, most of that in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

But every year the industry that brings us cherry pies and the Traverse City Cherry Festival faces restrictions set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ron French, the Senior Writer for Bridge Magazine, said because so many tart cherries are grown in such a small area, the weather can greatly affect the crop. So the USDA puts a limit on the percentage of Michigan's tart cherry crop that can be sold so prices don't swing too dramatically.

“The result of that is that in some years as much as one half or more in cherries produced in Michigan is left rotting on the ground,” French said.

Most growers favor restrictions, but one food processing company in Elk Rapids is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

French said Elk Rapids is hoping to remove the restrictions on cherries completely.

FDA

All this week, we’ve been talking about the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater in Michigan.

The upshot of our reports:

  1. Arsenic levels in Michigan’s groundwater can be high.
  2. Arsenic is bad for you.
  3. Scientists are finding health effects at lower exposure levels.
  4. If you’re on a well, test it for arsenic.
  5. If the levels are high, you should consider doing something about it.

This one chart published by the Center for Public Integrity shows you why (the blue bar is arsenic):

Josh Larios / Wikimedia

Recent changes in the Michigan right-to farm requirements have drawn criticisms from those worried it may curtail their ability to keep bees, chickens, or other farm animals in their backyards.

But are these changes as threatening to urban farming as detractors fear?

Writer Anna Clark has looked into the revisions in the right-to farm requirements and she believes the answer is “no.”

*Listen to the full show above.

Health officials suspect undercooked ground beef.
user i believe i can fry / Flickr

State health officials say they're working with health departments in Kent, Livingston, Oakland, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties to investigate a cluster of recent illnesses due to the bacteria E. coli O157.

The state Department of Community Health and the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Wednesday that the suspected source of the bacteria is ground beef.

More from the MDCH press release:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Climate change is making Michigan farmers more vulnerable to dramatic weather shifts, according to a new report.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released a report this morning claiming climate change is no longer a future threat but is a reality now.

Shawn Malone / UP Second Wave

With its rocky soil, thick forests and painfully short growing season, the Upper Peninsula is never going to look like Iowa or Kansas – and that's okay. For more than a century, a hardy batch of growers and livestock farmers have managed to survive and prosper in these less-than-ideal conditions. Thanks to new technologies and some decidedly low-tech solutions, the U.P.'s latest generation of ag workers are more productive than ever. Ultimately, the fruits of their labor may be felt – and tasted – far beyond the region's borders.

Age-Old Limitations
If you're a U.P. native, you don't need an advanced degree to understand why agriculture is challenging here. But Alger County MSU Extension Director Jim Isleib has one, so people tend to listen to his thoughts on this issue. "Poor soils and a short growing season – that about sums it up," he says. 

A farm in southeast Michigan.
Wikimedia Commons

LANSING – A new network aims to connect farmers, food processors, and food service directors as part of an effort to increase the amount of Michigan-produced food served in institutions.

The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the nonprofit Ecology Center environmental group on Thursday announced the launch of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network.

Organizers want schools, child care centers, hospitals, colleges and universities to get 20 percent of their food products from Michigan growers, producers and processors by 2020. The Center for Regional Food Systems says food service directors have expressed interest in the idea.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center is working with Michigan hospitals on the effort. A campaign called "Cultivate Michigan" aims to help institutions reach the goal.

cygnus921 / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to give honeybees more and better-quality food in the Midwest.

Dan Zay is a biologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan. He says the agency hopes a better variety of high-quality flowering plants will help honeybees rebound from major population losses over the last eight years.

“It’s said that one in three mouthfuls of food and drink that we consume involves the efforts of honeybees,” Zay said.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

About 500 people packed a Michigan State University campus hall Friday to witness President Barack Obama sign the new federal farm bill.

The event capped years of negotiations and some tough compromises with Congress on the complex legislation. President Obama said he’s always glad to return to Michigan to cheer the auto industry recovery. Now, he says, it’s time to do the same for agriculture and rural America.

White House

President Obama travels to Michigan today where he will sign the nation’s new farm bill into law.

The new law will change the way the federal government aids the nation’s farmers.

The president is signing the nearly $1 trillion farm bill into law on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

U.S. Sen.Debbie Stabenow of Michigan expects Congress will take up the farm bill this week.

Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.  She’s been working on passing a farm bill for more than a year.

“This is very complicated,” says Stabenow. “(It) covers everything from bioenergy, production agriculture, trade, conservation, nutrition – all kinds of things. We’re very close.”

There have been numerous disputes holding up the bill. Disagreement over funding for food assistance programs has been the major stumbling block.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been seven years since America hit the accelerator on corn-based ethanol fuels. Homegrown corn became the centerpiece of a push to find an alternative to foreign oil.

President Bush signed this expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, promising it would make us “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But, as is so often the case, something that offers great promise on one hand, takes its toll on the other hand. So the view of corn-based ethanol very much depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on.

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

The big, yearly meet up of Michigan farmers is this week in Grand Rapids. The annual Michigan Farm Bureau meeting helps cement policy stances important to agriculture.

There’s dozens of issues up for discussion. Some, like immigration reform and road funding aren’t new issues.

In fact, the poor condition of Michigan’s road was the issue that brought the MFB to fruition back in 1919.

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 / 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.

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