farming

Environment & Science
11:15 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Michigan-based startup company takes you back to the farm

Cara and Karl Rosaen, co-founders of RealTimeFarms.com
Karl Rosaen

You can listen to today's Environment Report above (the Real Time Farms story starts one minute in).

Figuring out how your food is grown is not always easy to do. Sometimes there are labels saying things like “free-range” or “certified naturally grown” but it can take some work to figure out what that means.

“So as a consumer, it’s just kind of like, ugh, I give up.”

Cara Rosaen and her husband Karl wanted a lot more information. They wanted our food system to be more transparent.

“And so we said, okay let’s just take you back to the story, to the pictures, all the things that are the core of the farm that will make you really know that that’s the truth, you know, go way beyond and way deeper than a label.”

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Politics & Government
6:23 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Vilsack and Stabenow urge investment in "bio-economy," Farm Bill

wikimedia commons

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Ford headquarters in Dearborn Monday.

He was there, along with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and members of the United Soybean Board, to visit a Ford research lab and make a broader push for more “bio-based” products.

Vilsack says there’s “unlimited capacity and opportunity” in the bio-based economy.

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Environment & Science
1:46 pm
Wed July 25, 2012

USDA responds to spreading drought with more help for farmers

Michigan Corn Quality
USDA USDA

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared four additional Michigan counties natural disaster areas due to continuing dry conditions.

Branch, Cass, Hillsdale, and St. Joseph counties have all joined the list.

This brings the number of counties experiencing drought up to 38 in Michigan, and 1,234 nationally, as counted during the 2012 crop year.

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Environment & Science
11:09 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Coping with a historically low crop in the Cherry Capital

Ben LaCross manages 750 acres of cherry trees on the Leelanau Peninsula. This year some of his trees were bare of fruit when they would normally hold 50-100 pounds of cherries each.
Emily Fox Michigan Radio

The great loss of cherries

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.

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Economy
4:11 pm
Mon July 2, 2012

After tough losses, MI farmers get some federal help

Cherries, a staple Michigan fruit crop suffered after this spring's fluctuating weather.
user maena MorgueFile.com

The federal government has approved financial support for Michigan fruit growers whose crops suffered due to unusual temperature fluctuations.

Almost all of Michigan's counties--72 of 83-- are now considered natural disaster areas and eligible for help.

Some growers say crop losses haven't been this bad in three generations.

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Economy
7:16 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Gov. Snyder approves loans for weather-wracked Michigan farmers

Gov. Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
governor's office

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has approved loans to Michigan fruit farmers who sustained an estimated $210 million in losses following rough spring weather. 

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Politics
12:56 pm
Wed June 13, 2012

Stabenow using farm bill to woo Michigan growers

Senator Debbie Stabenow stopped at Zeeland Farm Services to announce her push for the tax break Monday. ZFS would get the incentive for their investments in bio-based manufacturing.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

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.

The farm bill is being debated in the Senate.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Farming
12:06 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Financial help could be coming for Michigan's fruit farmers

Blooms on a cherry tree.
William Schmitt Flickr

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.

Environment & Science
10:04 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Michigan retailers importing cherries

Smeltzer Orchards in northern Michigan had to import cherries - for the first time ever.
Bob Allen

When you scoop up ice cream with cherries in it this summer or add a handful of dried cherries to your salad chances are the fruit won’t be from Michigan. Or even from the United States.

Extremely unusual weather this spring has crippled the state’s entire tree fruit industry. The bulk of the nation’s tart cherry crop is produced here.

The official estimate for the size of the cherry crop won’t be in for a few more weeks.

Even the most optimistic projections for the amount of fruit on the trees amounts to less than ten percent of what the state typically grows.

Tim Brian is president of Smeltzer Orchards in Benzie County.

He grabs a stem from a tart cherry tree and with his thumbnail slices open several buds.

"And right there you can see that brown pistil right there, that’s cooked. There isn’t a single good one in this whole cluster."

A bizarre stretch of hot weather in early March woke trees up from winter dormancy. That was followed by more than a dozen nights of hard freezing temperatures.

Brian thinks there will be entire orchards that won’t be harvested at all this year even if there is a scattering of fruit in them.

"I mean, with $4 fuel, even if there is only ten cherries on a tree that’s not going to be economically feasible to harvest."

Smeltzer’s has been in the business for well over a century.  The company runs a medium sized processing plant that freezes and dries cherries.

Inside the plant, a dozen people are pitting and sorting sweet cherries. The thing is… these cherries are from Chile.

"Normally we would not do this. This is actually the first time we’ve done something like this."

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Environment
4:27 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

Michigan CAFO activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

Michigan environmental activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher
screenshot HBO

Michigan farmer and environmental activist Lynn Henning appeared on the Earth Day edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (video below).

Henning is known in Michigan as a thorn in the side of large scale animal farms - also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

I first met Henning back in 2006 in Hudson, Michigan when I did a story about CAFOs and water pollution.

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.

In 2010, Henning was given a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her grassroots activism. From the Goldmand Prize website:

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):

Agriculture
1:45 pm
Sun April 15, 2012

Frost wipes out juice grapes in SW Michigan

user rkramer62 Flickr

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.

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Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Hard freeze hurts Michigan cherry crop

Cherry blossoms arrived early this year. To look for damage, researchers cut into the flower parts to look at four fruit buds in each blossom. Each bud is capable of forming a cherry.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

A hard freeze has wiped out a big portion of the cherry crop in Northwest Michigan this spring.  The area produces more than half the state’s cherries that end up in desserts, juice and as dried fruit.

An historic early warm-up in March left fruit trees vulnerable to frost once the weather turned cooler again.

Temperatures broke records for the month of March across the Great Lakes region.

Climate researchers say there’s never been anything like it going back more than a hundred years.

“We’re seeing history made before our eyes at least in terms of climatology.”

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and professor of geography at Michigan State.

“And in some ways if we look at where our vegetation is and how advanced it is, it’s probably a month ahead of where it typically is.”

Andresen is careful to point out that this year’s early warm-up is an extreme weather event.

He says it far outpaces the previous warmest March on record in 1945.

He can’t say it’s a direct result of climate change.

But it fits the predicted long term pattern of change that includes extreme fluctuations.

Read more
agriculture
6:30 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Michigan asparagus farmers need workers to harvest early crop

Michigan asparagus
Lake Express Creative Commons

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.

Read more
Environment
1:42 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Cold weather in northern Michigan threatens cherry crops

Blooms on a cherry tree.
William Schmitt Flickr

After a highly unusual prolonged warm spell in the state, cold weather returned to northern Michigan putting Michigan's cherry crop at risk.

More from the Associated Press:

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.

In his report, Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate, Allen spoke with Duke Elsner. As an agricultural extension agent for more than 20 years in the Traverse City area, Elsner told Allen this past winter has been the "most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen."

Growers were worried back in February about what happened this week, a frost after cherry trees blossomed.

Allen spoke with Jeff Andresen, the state’s climatologist and a professor of geology at Michigan State:

Andresen’s research shows an overall increase in temperatures of two degrees statewide in the last thirty years.

That’s pushing fruit trees to blossom earlier by as much as a week to ten days.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the last date of spring frost also was shifting earlier to keep pace. But it’s not.

That means the buds that produce the fruit are more exposed to the kind of freeze that wiped out the cherry crop in 2002.

Growers are tallying up the damage after the recent hard freeze.

We'll have more on how the cherry crop is doing in a story from Bob Allen on next week's Environment Report.

Changing Gears
4:01 pm
Wed March 21, 2012

Agriculture drives the Midwest economy – and farming is just the start of it

Part-time farmer Howard Haselhuhn at his West Michigan hops farm.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

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.”

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Agriculture
10:24 am
Wed February 29, 2012

45 Michigan counties get disaster designation

A farm in Michigan
Maureen Reilly Flickr

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.

Lists of the counties are on the USDA's website.

Auto/Economy
12:01 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

Michigan pickle business grows into former Detroit manufacturing plant

Cucumber production for pickling in the Midwest.
USDA

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.

Politics
7:02 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says feds should offer more help to farmers

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
USDA.gov

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow addressed agribusiness leaders yesterday at a conference in Lansing. Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and is getting ready to start negotiations on the 2012 farm bill.

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.

Arts/Culture
1:23 pm
Mon January 9, 2012

ArtServe Michigan to serve up fresh, local art

ArtServe Michigan to launch a CSA share...for art.
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

An arts advocacy group is stealing an investment idea from the agriculture world in an effort to get more folks to buy local art.

A statewide arts advocacy group wants to serve up some fresh, local art. To do so, the group is copying an investment model popular in the agricultural world.

Lots of farms in Michigan participate in Community Supported Agriculture. Folks can buy a CSA share in a farm. In return, the shareholder gets a weekly crate of fresh farm produce.

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Culture
11:32 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Stoking fears over migrant worker housing in Port Sheldon, Michigan

Blueberry farmers in Michigan use migrant labor to help harvest their crops. Some residents in Sheldon Township are fighting plans for migrant housing on a nearby blueberry farm.
Andrew Malone Flickr

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.

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