Earlier this month, most of the counties in Michigan were designated disaster areas for agriculture. Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the nation, and this year, the state lost 90 percent of its crop.
Ben LaCross is one of the many farmers who is trying to cope in what is known to be the Cherry Capital of the world. He manages 750 acres of cherries in Leelanau County, just outside Traverse City.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is up for reelection this November and is looking to prove her bona fides amongst the state's agriculturally-minded constituents.
According to a story from Bloomberg News, incumbent lawmakers are struggling to find new ways to prove their worth to voters after Congress outlawed earmarks for home-state projects.
Stabenow, Bloomberg writes, is using a $969 billion national farm policy bill she wrote as head of the Senate Agriculture Committee to show Michigan voters ---especially food growers--- that she is working for them.
From Bloomberg News:
[Stabenow] persuaded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to let her bring up the legislation early so she could tout its expanded assistance to farmers -- including Michigan fruit growers, who have suffered crippling crop losses this spring.
Unseasonably-fluctuating temperatures in March and April have been wreaking havoc on Michigan's tart cherry crop, a staple product for some northern parts of the state. The Environment Report's Bob Allen reported in April that Northwest Michigan saw a tart cherry crop loss of 50 percent to 70 percent this year. Other fruits like apples, peaches and plums were also hit hard.
Bloomberg News writes that "cherries and other fruit crops damaged in Michigan would have more protections under the expanded insurance system in the farm bill," and Stabenow would like to make sure farmers know it.
According to Bloomberg, some growers are getting the message:
Ben LaCross, a northern Michigan grower of cherries, apples and plums, told reporters last week that his farm would be in “free fall” without federal assistance, adding that Stabenow’s measure would expand the tools available to help farmers cope with crop failures like the one this year.
“Crop insurance will help keep family businesses like mine in business,” LaCross said.
Fruit growers and processors in Michigan might get some help in the form of low interest loans if an expected package of bills moves through the legislature.
The loans are aimed at providing relief to those who lost most of their fruit crops after an unusual spring warm spell was followed by extended freezing temperatures.
MLive reports Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Keith Creagh said today the bills would create "five-year low interest loans":
The loans, which will be administered by banks and agricultural lenders, will meet an estimated total economic need of some $300 million in the state’s fruit growing and processing industry, Creagh said while attending the Michigan Food Processing and Agribusiness Summit.
Securing the loan guarantees at a low interest rate of 1 percent or 2 percent could cost the state about $15 million, Creagh said. The 5-year loans would be structured so borrowers would only pay interest in the first two years, he said.
Creagh says he'll also seek federal financial support for Michigan fruit growers and processors.
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.