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agriculture

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

During a hearing today, U.S. senators quizzed officials with Midland-based Dow Chemical, DuPont and other major chemical companies about major consolidation in the chemical industry.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley calls it a “tsunami” of consolidation.

The main field at Urbandale Farm used to be a vacant lot filled with downed trees. It’s now used to grow a variety of flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Daniel Rayzel / Michigan Radio

Just a few minutes away from our state Capitol building rests Lansing’s Urbandale neighborhood – an area trapped in the city’s 100-year floodplain.

The floodplain designation led to rising insurance costs, abandoned homes, and vacant lots overgrown with trees. Locals took it upon themselves to make the best of the situation by growing some fruits and veggies, and starting Urbandale Farm.

user jamiesrabbits / Flickr

An E. coli outbreak that's already sickened seven people is being tied to a dairy farm near Grand Rapids.

Grassfields Cheese is a family-owned, organic farm in Coopersville.

It has issued a recall, and Whole Foods has pulled the products from shelves in the Midwest and South.

One person has been hospitalized, though they've already been discharged.

Jennifer Holton of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, says the state’s investigation is still ongoing.

Decades after falling from popularity, Spartan barley returns with the help of MSU researchers.
Courtesy of Ashley McFarland

Michigan’s local food movement has brought heirloom plants back into the spotlight, making for the perfect time to bring back a century-old barley strain.

Developed in 1916 by an MSU professor, “Spartan” barley is now making a comeback with the help of a team of the school's researchers.

Canola's low pour point and high oil content make it an ideal candidate for biodiesel. One kilogram of canola seeds, center, produces the amount of oil in the flask on the left.
Oregon State University / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

From ethanol made with corn to diesel fuel made from soy beans, the agriculture industry loves biofuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also pushing biofuels. They're seen as cleaner burning, and burning the fuels creates less of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change than do fossil fuels such as oil. 

All good, right?

Well, it turns out those claims might be hyped a bit.

NEFCO, a Massachusetts-based company, has partnered with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to turn waste water residue into fertilizer pellets like the ones shown above.
Flickr/City of Geneva / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Waste water sludge is making its way to Michigan farms in the form of fertilizer pellets. The practice has not gone unnoticed in rural Lenawee County, where last fall and this spring, residents have complained about the foul odor emanating from nearby fields. 

Here's how James Bryja of Onsted describes the smell: 

The black widow is one of two venomous species of spiders in Michigan
flickr user matt maves / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

Pesticides are a critical part of a business that is very important to Michigan: agriculture.

You need to control the insects that are threatening your crop, but you don’t want to kill off the “good” bugs along with the “bad.” Nor do you want to pose a threat to people, pets, water sources or livestock.

A new Michigan-made insecticide could be the answer to this problem, and it all starts with spider venom.

U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In 1964, when legislators in Michigan created a state minimum wage, the idea was to create a system where no worker would be paid less than minimum wage.

But in a departure from previous practice, the state agency that enforces the law ruled in a pay dispute case that agricultural workers are not protected under the minimum wage law.

Steady decline in wetlands endangers Great Lakes

Jan 4, 2016
Flickr/barbaragaillewis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

In Michigan and across the country, wetlands are known as marshes, swamps, bogs, fens and pocosins.

They are also known as threatened.

A recent study by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which used data collected by our (Ducks Unlimited) mapping experts, points to staggering losses.

Great Sphinx corn maze on Jacob's Farm near Traverse City.
Jacob's Farm / screen shot YouTube

Each year, tens of thousands of Michiganders flock to nearby farms to make their way through mazes made of corn stalks.

The idea of a maze made of maize began in the early 1990s in Pennsylvania.

According to Lebanon Valley College, farmer Don Frantz created the first American corn maze to attract visitors to his farm:

Schwallier's Country Basket / http://schwalliers.com/

Honeycrisp harvest is underway in Michigan.

The many fans of Honeycrisp apples will be happy to learn that all signs point to a fine crop this year.

But that good news presents new challenges for Michigan growers.

Much of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, found that continuous exposure to very low doses of the herbicide Roundup might be linked to liver and kidney damage.

The researchers looked at how genes changed in rats that were given a commercial Roundup formulation containing 0.1 parts per billion of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) over a two-year period.

The changing role of women in farming

Sep 3, 2015
Brian Peshek

During the 1970s and 80s, America lost millions of family farms. Agriculture was specializing, and getting bigger —   large dairies and croplands; monocultures of corn and soybeans.

Since then, there have been other changes: the local food movement, for example. And women have taken a bigger role in agriculture.

The number of farms owned and operated by women has tripled in the U.S. in recent decades.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Supporters of a proposed state sales tax hike are taking their campaign to Michigan’s farmers.

Tuesday, Michigan voters will decide on a ballot proposal that will increase the state sales tax from 6% to 7%. Most of the money raised through the ballot question will go to fix Michigan’s roads. 

Governor Snyder met yesterday with agri-business leaders in Genesee County to make his pitch for the May 5th vote. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes farmers can do more to combat climate change. 

He spoke to an audience of farmers and agri-business leaders this afternoon at Michigan State University.

Vilsack says farmers are very familiar with the effects of climate change.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The nation’s top agriculture official will be in East Lansing later today to unveil a new plan for dealing with climate change.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be on the Michigan State University campus. 

Double Up Food Bucks program gets boost from USDA

Apr 6, 2015
Chuk Nowak / Fair Food Network

The Fair Food Network says it will use a $5.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks program.

The program helps residents receiving food assistance benefits purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables through a dollar matching system.

The value of all the hogs, milk, corn, fruits and vegetables Michigan exported to other countries has doubled since 2006; going from just under a billion dollars, to an estimated $3.5 billion in 2013. The estimates come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

field of hay with red barn
Flickr user Julie Falk / Flickr

This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama's trip to Michigan State University where he signed the massive, almost $1 trillion U.S. Farm Bill into law.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

BLISSFIELD, Mich. (AP) - A former canning company site in southeastern Michigan has been selected as the future home of an agricultural history museum.

  The Daily Telegram of Adrian reports that the Blissfield Village Council approved leasing land to the Agricultural Awareness & Preservation Museum board of directors.

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.

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