farming

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.

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.

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.

Jane Doughnut / Creative Commons

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.

China is already playing a role in Michigan’s effort to diversify its economy. The country’s 1.3 billion people don’t want just cars from Michigan companies, they also want Michigan foods.

From baby food to blueberries, Michigan is tapping into a new and profitable market in China.

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.

United States National Archives

The Midwest’s persistently high unemployment rate isn’t expected to fall anytime soon.

But as Changing Gears' Kate Davidson reported, temporary employment agencies across the Midwest can’t seem to find enough people to fill all the open factory jobs they have waiting. These agencies are busier than they’ve been in years, because manufacturing has more open jobs than candidates willing or able to fill them.

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“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.

Maureen Reilly / Flickr

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan farmers grow the most diverse crops of any state besides California. Agriculture is Michigan’s 2nd largest industry and it’s growing. But many Michigan farms aren’t big enough to distribute through grocery stores.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senator Debbie Stabenow visited a farm in West Michigan Monday to discuss how to expand the agriculture industry.

Stabenow is chairwoman the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“We all have a stake in our farmers doing well because we all have a stake in having food security, in making sure we have wholesome, American grown, Michigan grown food for us.”

user tami.vroma / Flickr

This is national farmers market week.   The number of farmers markets in Michigan has grown tremendously during the past decade, from 90 in 2001 to more than 250 today. 

Dru Montri is the director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association.   She says farmers markets have grown to meet consumer demand. 

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user kregarious)

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.

Photo by Kyle Norris

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...

Maureen Reilly / Flickr

The wet spring has been bad for farmers in Michigan. They've had to wait to get their crops in the ground, and those crops that were in the ground when the rains came didn't fair so well.

The warmer, drier weather in the past week has allowed some farmers to get into their fields and plant their crops.

Kris Turner of the Flint Journal filed a report yesterday on farmers who are putting in 20-hour days to get their crops in on time.

From the Flint Journal:

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.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its first hearing in Lansing today. It’s the first step in the creation of a new farm bill.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White spoke with Senator Debbie Stabenow about the new farm bill. Stabenow chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.  Here is the interview:

Senator Stabenow talks about the importance of the new farm bill.  And says agriculture provides 1 out of 4 jobs in Michigan.

"There is strength and diversity in Michigan agriculture," Stabenow says, and "it's important to have a safety net and help farmers manage their risk on the farm."

Jack Knorek / Oak Moon Farms

Large flocks of sheep are typically found in the Rocky Mountains, California, and Texas.

But there's a growing number of shepherds in Michigan.

There's solid demand for lamb meat from Michigan's ethnic communities. Lamb prices are good. And the farmland in Michigan not suited for traditional crops makes for good pasture.

I visited Jack and Martha Knorek who showed me around their farm during the height of spring lambing season.

The mama ewes were a little camera shy, so unfortunately I didn't get to see a lamb being born. One was born ten minutes before I arrived, and another was born about an hour after I left.

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.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Have you ever seen those plastic forks or spoons made from corn or potatoes? It’s a big trend right now.

They’re compostable. So in theory... this tableware breaks down into a dark, rich material that’s really good for gardening.

So you get the convenience of disposable plastic... without adding to the big pile of plastic trash.

But here’s where things get tricky.

Liz Shoch is with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. She's working with companies to rethink the way they package their products.

“One of the things we say a lot currently is there is no sustainable package and that goes for compostable packaging too. There’s always tradeoffs.”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

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.  

Helen Hanley / creative commons

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.

Photo courtesy of Hantz Farms

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.
Craig Camp / flickr

Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom

The Michigan Farm Bureau is starting a six month series to educate farmers about laws that apply to migrant workers and youth labor. Michigan’s agriculture industry is dependent on migrant labor. The industry is still dealing with the effect of a harsh report on worker conditions by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Hannah Stevens is with Michigan State University Extension, one of the sponsors of the series.

In agriculture it’s complicated because there immigration issues there’s housing issue, you know, so many regulatory agencies that look closely at management of labor.  I think particularly it’s a sensitive topic.

Stevens says that pressure to comply with labor laws is also coming from retailers.

The retail stores, Meijer’s and Walmart’s and all these, are beginning to demand that there’s certain responsibility that growers have in terms of managing their workforce. They may reject Michigan produce if they don’t feel that’s being handled correctly. That may put growers in a very awkward position.

The farm bureau expects only about 25% of growers in the state will attend their seminars. The seminars will run from February to July.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

President Obama is expected today to sign legislation to improve the nation’s food safety.  The new law will put more regulations on Michigan farmers. 


2010 ended with national recalls of parsley, alfalfa sprouts and cilantro because of possible salmonella contamination.  The recalls were just the latest problems that prompted Congress to revamp the nation’s food safety system. The changes include better tracking of all kinds of food, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate.  

A farm in Michigan
Maureen Reilly - flickr user

Update 2:38 p.m.:

There are more declarations of natural disaster areas in the state of Michigan. The 21 counties I wrote about below were for "excessive heat" disasters. The USDA has also issued natural disaster declarations for frost (the excessive cold occurred from March 1st through May 16th), AND for storms and rain.

The 32 counties that received the frost declarations can be found this FEMA page.

Governor-elect Rick Snyder at the Michigan Farm Bureau in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Governor-elect Rick Snyder spoke to members of Michigan’s Farm Bureau Tuesday evening.

Snyder told the crowd he’s preparing to start Michigan’s era of innovation next month. “You’re on the forefront of that. People don’t understand how innovative you are and all the efforts you do. Whether it’s increasing yields or being more environmentally sound or all the great practices. ”

Rural roads by bike

Oct 30, 2010

I'll be talking with Rob Pulcipher about his new book, "Dirt Road Washtenaw: Biking the Back Roads." He believes dirt roads are the hidden gems of Michigan. Listen for that interview in early November.

Volunteers at Sema Cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Myra Klarman

(by Rebecca Williams with The Environment Report)

So what would you think about opening up your home to 120 people every week? Letting them come in with their shoes on, sit anywhere they wanted. Oh, and by the way, they’ll be expecting a full breakfast.

That’s what happens at Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb’s house in Ann Arbor. From 6:30 to 10am every Friday, their house is transformed. It’s kind of weird. You walk in and you know you’re in someone’s home, but it feels like you’re suddenly in a little diner.

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