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farmers

MICHAEL COYER / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

A few weeks ago, we talked with a specialist in underserved farmers at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems. Shakara Tyler mentioned a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that alleged discrimination against black farmers.

That case is called the Pigford lawsuit. It claimed USDA loan officers and agents denied loans, lost applications, delayed applications, and otherwise discriminated against African-American farmers. After all was said and done, the settlement with the USDA was the largest federal settlement for civil rights violations in the nation.

a farm in lansing michigan
Michael Coyer / FLICKR - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In 1920, there were 5.5 million white farm operators. By 2007, that number was down to 2.1 million. That's not all that surprising given that many white farmers are able to own and farm more acres because of today’s machinery.

Now, let's look at a different set of numbers. In 1920, there were 926,000 black farm operators. By 2007, the number was just over 30,000. That is a much steeper decrease, just one thirtieth of the original number.

banner that says flint fresh
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Officials broke ground in Flint today on a center to promote local farm goods. 

The million-dollar project will transform a dilapidated old building on the city’s east side into a climate-controlled warehouse.  

Erin Caudell, VP of Flint Fresh, says when it opens next spring, the food hub will enable small farmers to sell to larger institutions, like schools and hospitals.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Ken Nobis is a dairy farmer in central Michigan, and right now he’s worried about where South Koreans are going to get their cheese.

Courtesy of Mark Mathe

It’s an ancient way of life under 21st century economic pressures.

According to the state’s numbers, the food and agriculture industry pumps $101 billion into Michigan’s economy each year. It employs some 923,000 people. That’s nearly a quarter of Michigan’s workforce.

So, what does the next generation of farmers think about the future of agriculture in our state?

flooded fields
Michigan Agribusiness Association

Farmers and ranchers in 14 Michigan counties are eligible for emergency loans due to widespread damage amid severe storms and flash flooding in June.

The update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes after President Donald Trump last week made a disaster declaration for four Michigan counties.

Courtesy of the Isley farm

Blooms of algae in Lake Erie have given rise to a toxin that got so bad three years ago, Toledo had to shut down its water system.

Fertilizer that runs off from farms, into rivers, and then into Lake Erie is a big reason those algal blooms exist.

But some farmers, like Laurie Isley and Jim Isley, are working to reduce that fertilizer contamination.

Food hubs can help small, local farmers connect with bigger distributors.
Friends of Family Farmers / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

What would it mean for smaller farmers and growers to sell their crops to big distributors or for consumers to know that the head of lettuce in their salad came from a nearby farm?

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.

An unusually dry, hot June is hurting crops across the Midwest, including Michigan.

Everything from beans to sugar beets to wheat is suffering, says Kate Krepps of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

"It's been a strange year," says Krepps.  "We had such a wet beginning, so it was really challenging for folks to get crops in the field in a lot of different areas, particularly in southern Michigan.  And then they got them in the field, and we haven't had much rain since then."

The situation could reduce yields and profits for the roughly 75,000 people who farm in the state.

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:

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.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan's local food movement is growing and thriving. We're seeing more chefs who deeply care about what they buy and from whom.

Chefs like James Rigato of the Root, a locavore restaurant in White Lake Township.

Writer Michael Jackman of the Metro Times recently analyzed a meal prepared by Chef Rigato and traced nearly 100% of its ingredients to Michigan producers. His just-released story in the Metro Times is billed as "a grand tour of Michigan's local food movement."

The meal consisted of a Charcuterie platter with meat, cheese, fish and vegetables from the region.

Michigan Agri-Business Association

This has not been a good June for Michigan’s dry bean crop.

Dry beans are primarily grown in the Thumb region.  Dry beans account for about $250 million in Michigan’s agricultural economy.

But heavy rains this month have slowed planting by about 25%. Many of the crops that are the ground have also been damaged by the higher-than-normal rainfall.

thehavananote.com

Michigan’s agriculture industry may benefit from an opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced the U.S. would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. The decision is a step in the direction that may end with the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba.  

There are still many steps before the embargo is lifted.  But people are already planning for that day.