I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.
It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.
And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.
It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.
Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.
Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):
A devastating frost has wiped out grapes grown for juice in southwestern Michigan. John Jasper, a surveyor for Welch's Foods, tells TV station ABC57 that he went through hundreds of acres before even finding a live bud. He estimates more than 10,000 acres were destroyed Thursday, mostly in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
Michigan’s asparagus season has started early because of the warmer than usual weather this spring. But farmers are worried they don’t have enough workers to harvest the crop.
“Being a former migrant worker I can tell you that in the past Michigan has had a wealth of workers coming to Michigan. It was destination state,” Belen Ledezma said. She’s the Director of Migrant, Immigrant and Seasonal Worker Services for the Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency.
Ledezma says the huge crop diversity in Michigan means migrant workers have a variety of jobs to choose from throughout the year. But this year farmers are struggling to find enough workers to harvest. “I think we’re starting to recognize that the same labor pool that we’re used to is no longer coming to Michigan,” Ledezma said.
Ledezma says the state is trying to help farmers recruit local workers to harvest asparagus. Her agency will host a job fair in southwest Michigan on Thursday in hopes of filling more than 220 immediate openings on asparagus farms.
Phil Korson of the Cherry Marketing Institute says it probably will take another few weeks to determine the extent of the damage. But he says every time temperatures drop into the 20s, there will be crop damage.
Temperatures shot into the 80s for five consecutive March days in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. That caused trees to bloom early. But things quickly returned to normal. The National Weather Service says Leelanau County has had six nights below freezing and three nights in the 20s since the warmup.
The Michigan Farm Bureau says millions of buds froze at their most vulnerable development stage.
Growers say they hope to salvage a decent crop.
This past February, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen reported on concerns about the changing climate and its effect on fruit trees in northern Michigan.
This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.
At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”
The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 45 counties in Michigan as natural disaster areas for three separate sets of disaster conditions last year.
Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday announced the designation after periods of weather that occurred starting in February 2011 and May 2011. The designation made earlier this year means qualified farm operators are eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
Twenty-nine counties were designated primary natural disaster areas for weather including rain, wind, snow, flooding and tornadoes that started in February 2011. Ten got the designation for similar weather, drought and excessive heat starting at that point.
Six counties were designated primary natural disaster for drought and excessive heat starting in May 2011.
The misshapen map above is from a 2011 USDA report, but it gives you the idea.
Pickles are big business in Michigan. With cucumber farmers located near pickling processing facilities, the state is the largest pickle producer in the country.
Rene Wisely of the Detroit News reports that Michigan is followed by Florida and North Carolina in pickle production.
Wisely reported on the expansion of Detroit and Brooklyn based specialty pickle maker McClure's. The company plans to move into an old manufacturing plant in Detroit:
After searching Troy, Clawson and even New York City, where Bob is based, they found it in Detroit at a former American Axle plant.
They begin setting up their new 20,000-square-foot leased home in a week or so, more than quadrupling their size.
"This extra space will help in many ways, right down to our glass jars," Joe McClure said. "I can place an order for more glass jars, which will save costs because the bigger the order, the smaller the price. We didn't have enough storage to do that before."
Wisely writes that McClure's has come long way from its beginnings in a 1,100 square foot space in Ann Arbor. The company has 25 employees and made $1.6 million in revenues last year.
She said the rest of the economy benefits when farms and agribusinesses prosper.
“We know it’s one out of four jobs – that still surprises people when I say that, both in Michigan and around the country – one out of four jobs and over $71 billion in economic activity just in Michigan,” said Stabenow.
Stabenow said she wants to shore up federal support for agricultural research in areas such as bio-fuels. And she said farmers could use some federal help in managing the risk of losses due to weather and price volatility.
Stabenow is a Democrat who is expected to seek reelection in November.
It's never easy to get citizens to show up at a planning commission meeting, but in Port Sheldon Township they had a bigger turnout than normal because of concerns over migrant worker housing on a nearby blueberry farm.
Carl Rizzuto sells his own sausage and meatballs at the summer farmer’s market in Kalamazoo. He tried coordinating a winter market ten years ago but he says there wasn’t enough interest. Now he says business is so good during the summer market vendors agreed a the Kalamazoo Winter Market would be worth the effort.
“Youth working on the farm is as old as farms,” said Craig Anderson, Agriculture Labor and Safety Services division manager at Michigan Farm Bureau. Anderson grew up on a farm in northern Michiagn.
“I started operating equipment at the age of 6 with a wiggle hoe – hoeing strawberries,” Anderson said.
The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing changes to child labor regulations. If the new rules are adopted kids under age 16 would not be able to touch a wiggle hoe because the weeding machine is gas powered. He says in rural areas working on a farm is a great job for a teenager and sometimes the only job around.
“You not only are going to exclude the family structure but you’re also going to exclude the rural structure. Where that farm employment is the first stepping stone to be able to do anything from purchasing your first bike all the way up to purchasing your first car and saving for college.”
The proposed changes would also prohibit children under age 16 from working with most farms animals. Anderson says the changes would hurt smaller farms that still rely on family members to do a lot of the work. The department of labor is accepting feedback on the changes through Thursday.
DETROIT (AP) - A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers are cutting back significantly on the amount of soil and nutrients eroding from fields to the Great Lakes and neighboring waterways.
The study estimates that methods such as no-till cultivation have cut in half the volume of sediments entering rivers and streams in the region, while phosphorus and nitrogen runoff are down by more than one-third.
Nutrients from farms and municipal waste treatment plants are believed to be one cause of rampant algae growth in the Great Lakes in recent years.
The study is based on a survey of farmers between 2003 and 2006.
Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation says the report shows progress is being made, but says more must be done to fix the algae problem.
Now, another industry finds itself in a similar position: agriculture. It's a big business all across the Midwest. In Michigan, agriculture is said to be the state’s second largest industry and is still growing.
But, Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association says agriculture producers can’t find enough people to fill jobs now, and he’s even more worried about the future.
“The industry demand is pretty solid, and it’s an increasingly severe problem,” Bryum says.
A large group within the agriculture industry -- white collar workers at agri-business companies -- is getting ready to retire soon. His concern is that a new generation of workers is not ready to replace those workers getting ready to leave.
“Veggie Mobile” will sell locally grown fruits and vegetables in Grand Rapids neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores.
“This is awesome,” Governor Rick Snyder said while visiting the refrigerated truck’s first stop Wednesday night at New Hope Baptist Church - located in a low-income neighborhood on Grand Rapids’ southwest side. He praised the public-private partnership (and the W.K. Kellogg foundation for a $1.5 million grant) that made the “Veggie Mobile” possible.
The number of women running farms in Michigan is growing, according to a report in today's Lansing State Journal:
The number of Michigan farm acres managed by female principal operators has more than doubled in 30 years, from 252,980 acres in 1978 to 552,075 acres in 2007, the most recent date available from the United States Department of Agriculture's Michigan Field Office.
Sugar beets are large white beets that grow well in Michigan’s cooler climate. In fact, farmers have grown sugar beets in the Bay area for more than 100 years. The beets are planted at the end of April and harvested at the beginning of September. From then until March, the beets are processed into sugar.
Refineries run 24 hours a day and seven days a week with no breaks for holidays. If machines were to stop in the middle of the process, sticky molasses would harden inside the equipment. In the end, the sugar beets become white granular sugar, powdered sugar, or brown sugar. If you’ve bought a bag of sugar at a Michigan grocery store, chances are it’s sugar beet sugar from the Michigan Sugar Company.
Things are going pretty well for the Michigan sugar industry now. But twenty years ago, the industry nearly dissolved. Steve Poindexter is a sugar beet specialist with Michigan State University:
“The sugar industry, back in the ‘90s, was struggling, trying to get production up. The yields were down and not going up, and profitability was very low.”
That was the result of a push toward raising beets with higher sugar content. The experiment was a failure. The low yields caused many farmers to stop growing beets. Things got so bad, Michigan sugar beet farmers were granted almost 20 million dollars in disaster funds.
King Karate is a martial arts studio that’s been in the Flint area for 22 years. But in the past few years, the couple who run the studio have broadened their definition of self-defense…and that’s why they’ve added farming to their arsenal.
18 year old Hakim Gillard has a lot on his plate today.
First he’s got to harvest vegetables for tomorrow’s farmer’s market...
Jim Collom, an agricultural statistician at the Michigan branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said farmers across the state and country are hurting this year. Michigan farmers battled intense rain that flooded fields and limited the time seed could be planted. Things have improved in the past few days..
Michigan farmers typically have 92 percent of corn planted by this time of the year but only have about 67 percent of it in the ground now, Collom said. Soybeans are worse — only about 31 percent is planted. Farmers typically have about 71 percent of that crop planted by this time of the year.
One farmer, Chad Morey, said the window for planting corn safely is closing, saying he might have to plant more soybeans this year to turn a profit.
The Morning Sun reports that the late plantings and moisture will affect how much farmers are paid:
And even what's planted in the next few days and what was planted earlier this month, will likely face yield and moisture issues in the fall.
"We can expect lower yields when we're planting that late, and it will be wet," Gross said. "It's not going to have the time to dry in the field."
Farmers get less for wet grains because of the time and expense required to dry them.
Leaders in Michigan’s farm community are urging Senator Debbie Stabenow and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the rules for a land conservation program on farms. They say the current program could lead to higher food prices.
It’s planting time for many Michigan farmers. In addition to the weather, farmers are closely watching fuel prices this Spring.
The price of fuel affects practically every aspect of farming in Michigan, from the cost of the diesel in the tractor to the price of the fertilizer on the fields. Bob Boehm is the director of the commodities department for the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says fuel costs are between 7% to 15% of the average Michigan farm’s budget, but may be higher this year.
Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.
The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.
"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "
At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.