agriculture

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.

Much of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.
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.

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.

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