Cherry growers worry about rising imports

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan is the nation’s top producer of tart cherries but increasing imports from foreign countries worry the state’s growers.

“Michigan grows 75 to 80 percent of the U.S. supply of tart cherries every year,” said Kevin Robson, a horticulture and industry relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The Michigan crop is worth $54 million, according to the Farm Bureau.

Imports have rapidly increased over the past decade. Ten years ago, the U.S. imported approximately 24 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate annually, said Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. In 2016, the U.S. imported 200 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate.

“We can’t even come close to competing with imports coming in, especially from Turkey,” said Mike DeRuiter, a third-generation farmer from Hart in Oceana County.

The average industry price last year was around 18 cents per pound. Depending on the chemicals used to protect the trees, that can be five to 10 cents under the cost of production, he said.

Turkey sells its tart cherry juice concentrate for roughly $14 a gallon, while U.S. growers are currently at $28 a gallon. The break-even point for a U.S. grower is about $32 a gallon, DeRuiter said.

U.S. farmers have incurred increased production costs in recent years due to the introduction of the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive species that destroys fruit trees, including tart cherry trees.

“That pest has been a huge challenge for growers because it’s driven up costs,” Korson said. “The profit margins are down because the costs have gone up.”

The tart cherry industry has made a massive effort to grow the market.

“Tart cherries were traditionally a bakery ingredient,” Korson said. “In the early years of our industry, most of the cherries that were produced were produced for pies and pastries.

“We started 20 years ago investing in health benefits research. There was always folklore for cherries being good for arthritis and gout, but we had no science to support that,” he said.

After 10 years of research, quite a bit of scientific support emerged regarding health benefits, he said. The Cherry Marketing Institute doubled the assessment growers pay and hired a Chicago-based agency and a new marketing director to take that research message to the national market.

“Our focus was on juice, dried and frozen, and our goal was to reposition tart cherries from a bakery ingredient to be one of America’s superfoods,” Korson said.

The Farm Bureau’s Robson said the industry has done a remarkable job of rebranding itself as a health food product.

The effort was largely successful in increasing demand. The problem for U.S. farmers, however, is their domestic sales stayed flat while imports skyrocketed.

And grower DeRuiter said, “The U.S. consumption of tart cherries has definitely gone up since we started the promotion program. And that’s grower-funded. Every grower in the U.S. is essentially paying into this promotion program.

“Statistically we have grown the markets in the U.S. so it’s a huge positive. We just have to stop other countries from dumping in here.”

Korson said the problem stems from unfair trade. If a farmer in Michigan grows tart cherries and exports them to Turkey, the tariff is 58 percent. On the flip side, if a Turkish farmer grows tart cherries and ships them to the United States, there’s no tariff at all.

“At the end of the day, I think the U.S. government has really let us down,” Korson said. “Farmers have been put in a position where the government has allowed foreign countries to take advantage of the funding and the work that U.S. growers have done in not only growing and protecting their crop, but also in trying to market their crop by giving some other competitor duty-free access to that market.“

Even with the industry’s problems, those closest to it sound optimistic.

“Growers will tighten up their boots and weather the storm with the hope and the belief that the industry will come back around,” Robson said.

DeRuiter continues to plant trees with the hope that the market will rebound.

“In the fruit world, it’s a long term commitment,” he said. “The trees I planted today, it’ll be seven years before I take the first crop off of them, and then they’ll last for about 35 years.”

DeRuiter said growers are working hard on the issues, and he said he thinks they’ll be able to fix them.

“It’s hard to shed positive light when we’re going through a low period. It’s tough but you have to be optimistic,” he said.

Farmers eye tariff as potential trouble

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – Many Michigan farmers are worried about a potential backlash as a result of higher federal tariffs and new international trade policies.

“The big concern in agriculture right now is that by leveling steel and aluminum import tariffs against some of our key trading partners, like China, it could levy a retaliatory tariff, and often retaliation targets agriculture,” said Chuck Lippstreu, a publicist for the Agricultural Leaders of Michigan.

That could to lead to unintended consequences and a retaliation against Michigan agriculture and U.S. agriculture that would hurt farmers, he said.

One of the biggest concerns is the effect a backlash from the tariffs could have on soybeans.

“Michigan produces over 100 million bushels of soybeans annually, or three million tons,” said David Williams, the president of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Association based in Frankenmuth. “Michigan exports over 60 percent of its soybeans.”

China is one of the country’s top customers for soybeans, Williams said. U.S. exports to China are worth around $14 billion a year.

China is also one of the major targets for the new steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump.

“If these tariffs cut our market access, that could really hurt the U.S. economy,” Williams said.

The price farmers get for agricultural commodities is lower than in the past, and retaliatory tariffs on commodities would only increase their problems, he said.

Soybeans are a versatile crop, Williams said. The main product is soybean meal, which is used as feed for animals. The oil is also extracted and used in carpet backing, the foam in car seats, plastics and a multitude of other products.

Milk is another commodity that could feel a backlash because of retaliatory tariffs.

“Dairy has become part of the global economy,” said Ken Nobis, the president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association. “And agricultural products are usually the No. 1 target of trade disputes.”

The Novi-based group has plants in Constantine, Ovid, Mt. Pleasant and Middlebury, Indiana.

Michigan produces 11 billion pounds of milk each year, and while most of that milk is sold in the United States, Michigan dairy farmers could still be adversely affected by retaliatory tariffs.

“Exports for the country as a whole are about 15 percent of milk produced,” Nobis said. “Retaliatory tariffs would affect the prices of milk for all U.S. farmers because they would make the U.S. less competitive in the global market.”

Plenty of dairy is produced globally, Nobis said, so other countries can simply go elsewhere to get their milk.

“Tariffs can really knock things out of whack,” he said.

Measure seeks to prevent potato diseases

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers with more than an acre of seed potatoes would face new requirements under a bill passed by the Senate and House: to plant only certified seed potatoes.

The intent is to reduce the possible spread of diseases that could have a major economic impact on the state’s agricultural industry, supporters say.

Michigan ranks ninth among the states in potato production with 47,000 acres planted, according to the Michigan Potato Industry Commission. The crop contributes $178 million annually to the state’s economy.

Montcalm, Mecosta, Antrim, St. Joseph and Delta counties are among the top producers in the state, said Mike Wenkel, the executive director of the commission.

In Michigan, 70 percent go into potato chips. Michigan potatoes fill one of every four bags of chips in the country, according to the National Potato Council.

Rep. Roger Victory, R- Hudsonville, the main sponsor of the bill, said Michigan is one of the only potato-producing states that doesn’t currently have a certified potato seed law.

“It is crucial that we take proactive steps to safeguard the industry’s continued success,” Victory said. “This legislation is very similar to regulations found in other potato-producing states.”

The bill is the result of many years of work and collaboration with the industry advocacy group Potato Growers of Michigan and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, he said.

Among the co-sponsors are Reps. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake; Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs; Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township; Triston Cole, R-Mancelona; and David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids.

Chris Long, a potato specialist at Michigan State University, said that virus accumulation in potato seed is detrimental to healthy crop production, and other bacterial and fungal pathogens including late blight are also of great concern.

“The bill is a good thing,” Long said. “The certified seed law would better regulate seed that is at a higher risk to the potato industry and prevent it from ever being planted.”

Wenkel said, “Michigan potato growers are also working to manage disease, insects and other pests that can damage the crop. This includes many possible impacts on the seed during the growing season and the storage of the crop.”

Wenkel said potato seed is different from most types of seed used in producing food because it’s  a piece of potato that will grow into a new plant when placed in the ground. “Since they are living tissue, they can easily harbor disease and pests from one year to the next.”

“Through seed certification, many of the diseases are monitored during seed production and provided to the buyers to assist them in managing these diseases,” he said. “Our goal in supporting this legislation is to protect our industry and our reputation for growing quality potatoes from being impacted by diseases.”

The percentage of potatoes planted now using certified seed is unknown. “Today growers can use anything as seed,” Wenkel said, “although it is believed that most seed planted is certified.”

The bill would require potato growers to plant certified potatoes and allow exemptions only  under special conditions.

It also would allow a grower to secure an annual exemption if certified seed isn’t available. “The annual exemption is a critical component of the bill to ensure that no grower would be impacted in growing a crop for a season,” Wenkel said.

Victory said that the bill also provides a special  exemption for small potatoes and for individuals who plant and distribute less than an acre of seed potatoes, such as hobby farms.

John Marker, the owner and operator of Marker Farms in Elmira grows seed potatoes.

The legislation wouldn’t have a negative impact on his farm, he said. “All the seeds my farm uses are certified.”

“The bill is more directed towards the commercial growers in the state,” Marker said. “When they are replanting potatoes, they do not go through an inspection process” and could be replanting diseased potatoes.

Marker said the proposal, if signed, would reduce the risks to the industry and to other growers who are trying to do things correctly by planting clean seed.

The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

 

Farmers concerned about air emission reporting requirement

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers in the state may soon be required to report air emissions from their livestock, a federal requirement that had exempted them in the past.

“It’s just a requirement for reporting for purposes of tracking,” said Laura Campbell, the manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department at the Michigan Farm Bureau. “This is a requirement with no useful purpose.”

The change is due to a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling  in Washington, D.C.

Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted farms from reporting hazardous substance air releases caused by animal waste. Only large concentrated animal feeding operations were subject to reporting under a related law.

Because the court ruling struck down the exemption, farms, ranches, livestock operations and animal operations, will be required to report releases of hazardous substances that exceed threshold limits.

According to the EPA, agriculture contributes 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Among them, methane from normal digestive processes of livestock represents almost one-third of the emissions, and manure management accounts for about 15 percent.

No one knows how many farms will fall under the requirement, Campbell said.

“The requirement depends on how much ammonia or hydrogen sulfide the manure on a farm might emit,” she said. “Confinement, pasture, all sizes of operations will have to review their farms to try to figure out whether they would estimate that their emissions meet the threshold.”

The threshold for ammonia or hydrogen sulfide from a farm is 100 lbs within a 24-hour period, according to EPA.

However, no reliable way exists to measure air emissions from any type of farm, “whether a livestock barn, manure storage structure, feedlot, pasture or any other type of (animal) housing,” Campbell said.

The EPA has recommended a few calculators that farmers can use to estimate their emissions, but she said estimates are likely to be questioned because there is no way to scientifically verify them.

According to Campbell, the Farm Bureau has been working with Michigan State University Extension, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other partners to get out information on how farms can comply.

Gary Voogt, the owner of Voogt Farms, a beef cattle farm in Marne, Ottawa County, said it will be a paperwork burden if farms have to report air emissions.

He said when farmers have to do “foolish things” that have nothing to do with raising livestock, “it passes onto the consumer, and the cost of food goes up and poor people can’t afford to eat.”

Campbell said there would be a “significant financial penalty if farmers don’t comply” with the requirement.

Beyond that, reporting would present a risk to their privacy, she said.

“Farm information submitted under most regulatory programs has some level of protection from release to the public,” Campbell said. But, under the federal Superfund law, “that information can’t be held private because the entire reason for the act is to provide that information to the public and emergency managers for response.

“Therefore, farm and farming family information would become public. There are many activist groups who want information about livestock farms specifically because they want to harass, demonize or find other ways to eliminate livestock farms,” she said.

Tom Zimnicki, the agriculture policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said it’s essential to be able to track air emissions from all major sources that contribute to pollution, whether that be agriculture, transportation or other industry.

“Our hope is that both state and federal policy recognizes the impact these livestock operations, especially the large ones, have on air quality and address air pollution issues accordingly,” he said.

“I do not think the new air emission reporting requirements will result in any new standards to limit emissions from agriculture,” Zimnicki said. “To my knowledge it is only a reporting requirement.”

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would exempt farms from reporting air emissions. Neither of Michigan’s senators, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, or Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, are co-sponsors.

Campbell said the Farm Bureau supports the proposal which is pending in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The organization says the new requirements won’t result in any benefits.

“This act has nothing to do with increasing protection of the environment,” Campbell said. “The best approach for helping farms do the best they can do for protecting air quality will come from university and Extension research under the kind of conditions that can be measured.”

That, in turn,  will allow them to make recommendations to use for state standards, she said.

According to the EPA, farms won’t be required to submit reports until the appeals court issues its order eliminating the exemptions on May 1.

More farmers may lease land for solar projects

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – As solar energy soars in popularity in Michigan, solar leasing has become a  profitable option for farm owners.

Under agreements with private solar developers, farmers can earn rental payments varying from $500 to $2,000 per acre per year, said Charles Gould, the bioenergy & agricultural energy conservation educator at Michigan State University Extension.

“That’s considerably more than what they would be making from growing crops, grains and corn,” Gould said. “The current market price for those commodities doesn’t approach $1,000  an acre.”

However, owners need to give up use of that land in exchange for signing up, he said. “The lease agreement can be up to 25 to 30 years, so that land is no longer in production.”

The installation of solar energy generation on farmland should follow local master plans and zoning ordinances, according to MSU Extension. A master plan makes sure the land is suitable for the scale a of solar project and zoning ordinances set the legal standards for site selection.

Michigan gets about one-quarter of its electricity from renewable sources, including solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It’s hard to predict whether a solar lease undermines the value of farmland, said Matthew Kapp, the government relations specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“There are many variables that contribute to value. Variables such as market conditions, location, soil type, as well as land use, all play a role in determining farmland value,” Kapp said.

“Each farmer needs to evaluate what’s the best use for their land,” he said. “Some farmers would say solar energy is a positive and some would say it’s a negative, depending on their own perspective.”

To some extent, taking land out of agricultural use will reduce production, said Richard Harlow, the manager of the Farmland Preservation Program at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The program aims at preserving farmland for agriculture. It provides tax benefits and exemptions from various special assessments, according to the department.

Harlow said, “Farm owners in the program are not permitted to put solar panels on the farmland.”

Michigan has 3.3 million of its 10 million acres of farmland in the preservation program, he said. “Renewable energy is good, but we are not making any new farmland and we need to preserve the farmland we have.”

Agricultural solar energy development is still in the early stage, said Charlotte Jameson, the director of energy policy and legislative affairs at the Michigan Environmental Council.

“We are not really at the point that we were need to worry about overuse of farmland and solar,” Jameson said.

Jameson suggested redeveloping brownfield sites — abandoned and contaminated industrial sites — for solar projects.

In Michigan, the price of solar panels and related equipment declined 55 percent over last five years.

Solar energy production in the state grew from 5.7 megawatts in 2016 to 107 megawatts in 2017, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

However, it produces only 0.1 percent of the state’s electricity.

Traverse City opened its M-72 solar project last October with the intent to power 100 percent of city operations with renewable energy by 2020.

The project is a collaboration among the city, its municipally-owned utility and Heritage Sustainable Energy, a private company.

It is under a solar lease agreement on former farmland.

“This year the city will continue to focus on energy efficiency measures — building by building — and also work with Traverse City Light & Power on additional opportunities to procure renewable energy,” said Sarna Salzman, a member of the Grand Traverse County Planning Commission.

Farmers confront too much milk, low prices

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s top commodity, milk, has suffered a series of economic blows since 2014.

When dairy cows produced about 9.6 billion pounds of milk in 2014, prices in the state began to drop, leaving farmers scrambling to sustain their businesses.

Michigan farmers produce 4.9 percent of the milk in the United States and are ranked 7th in production in the nation. However, over the last three years, dairy farmers have produced more milk than the market could process.

“The current supply of milk in Michigan is abundant but the processing capability hasn’t kept with this increase in supply. “says Burke Larsen of Larsen Farms in Scottville.

As a result, some farmers go out of business, use up their financial reserves or sell their herds says Zachary Clark, director of government relations at the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C.

Ernie Birchmeier, a Michigan Farm Bureau livestock specialist, said that “dairy production is up because Michigan has the best dairy farm managers. In the last decade, we have added lots of cows to the herds.”

Clark said economic challenges in agriculture are affecting more than just dairy farmers. “Commodity prices across the board have been bad over the years. The prices of wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum have been going down.”

Generally, when one crop or type of livestock is not doing well financially, farmers often use yields from other commodities that are doing well to balance their budgets. But when prices are bad across the board, it becomes difficult to offset low prices, Clark said.

For Michigan dairy farmers, the past few years have been challenging. To help address the problem of overproduction, dairy products are exported to other states.

But that comes with its own challenges.

Larsen said, “Sometimes milk has to be shipped to Florida because of the deficit Florida experiences due to heat. However, this increases transportation costs.”

And Clark said, “There is need for consolidation in the dairy industry.  We need to see recognition out of federal programs, a fair pricing system through federal orders, an assistance program for farmers during uncertain economic times and supply management.”

To help address that challenge, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing,proposed a new farm bill which received bipartisan support in the Senate. She’s the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The state’s dairy industry supports 40,000 jobs and contributes more than $15 billion to the economy. according to Stabenow.

The new farm bill proposes several risk management and insurance tools intended to protect farmers from market uncertainties.

The Farm Bureau’s Birchmeier said the Senate action is a vital step towards the assistance needed by the state’s struggling dairy industry.

However, he said the legislation would not solve the problem of overproduction.

“The risk management tools proposed in the Senate allow farmers to protect a margin between prices and the cost of production. It’s not a fix and will not make farmers profitable,” Birchmeier said.

Mark Iciek, a board member of the Michigan Milk Producers Association from Gladwin, said,  “There’s a long-term solution which is adding processing capacity. Several organizations are working to increase milk processing capacity but this is something that will take several years.

“At the moment, there is no short-term fix to this problem,” Iciek said.

Birchmeier said that to solve the problem of overproduction, people need to consume more dairy goods, adding that prices are reasonable and dairy is great source of protein.

“Milk contains nine nutrients that people need,” said Janice Jackson of the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, which promotes dairy products to the public.

A 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report showed that there are four nutrients that Americans don’t consume enough.  Three of those nutrients – calcium, vitamin D and potassium – are found in milk.

“Consuming milk has also been associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and type two diabetes in adults,” said Jackson.

Besides encouraging consumption, Larsen said trade plays a role in handling excess production.

“We need to push dairy products. Globally we are doing all right, domestically we need to improve.”

And Birchmeier said, “We need to increase trade worldwide and cut production in order to bring it in line with demand.”

After GMO resistance, gene-editing technology is the next new thing

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — A lack of science in public decision making, punctuated by a misunderstanding and dislike of GMOs, are hurdles the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development face, Director Jamie Clover Adams said.

Public pushes against GMOs and for animal welfare improvements such as “cage-free” eggs hurt food producers financially because the efforts needed to adjust to public opinion cost more than people are willing to pay for the final product, Clover Adams said.

“There is not one lick of science out there that’s peer reviewed that says that genetically modified organisms are not safe,” Clover Adams said. “They’ve been out there for 25 years, there is not one lick of science, but that doesn’t seem to matter to people…

“People now are so far removed from food production, they don’t think about what it takes to get that to the plate.”

With new technologies on the horizon, the jury is out as to how the public will assess them.

One such technology us “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” better known as CRISPR. It’s a gene-editing technology that shows high promise for developments in animal welfare and improving crops, Clover Adams said.

CRISPR allows researchers to selectively remove, replace or “turn off” specific genes, which might be used in the future to correct mutations that lead to certain diseases, according to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a biomedical and genomic research center.

The technology has potential applications in agricultural development.

Clover Adams said, “CRISPR, I think, is going to have a huge and significant impact. II can’t put a number on it, but it will have more of an impact than genetic modification.”

Kate Thiel, a field crops and advisory team specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said Michigan’s agriculture industry is excited and cautiously optimistic about CRISPR and its potential applications, particularly in disease resistance, drought tolerance and nutritional value.

“Ag is looking at this as a way to help us continue to feed that growing population, to do so in a safe, healthy and effective manner and to provide nutritious food sources for folks,” Thiel said. “This is a more timely and more precise, more simple and more effective model than what we’ve been able to use to date.”

Holsteins, the most popular dairy cow breed, are naturally horned. For safety and other reasons, food producers have the cows’ horns removed, which can be a painful process for grown cows.

CRISPR technology might allow for a humane fix to this practice.

“I’ve done that, and it’s not fun, and doing that to an animal is not the nicest thing to do,” Clover Adams said. “They can use that CRISPR technology and they can edit (the cow) so that they don’t have horns.”

Thiel said that CRISPR differs from the “long, intensive process” of genetic modification by allowing researchers to target solely a desired trait, and make changes using only DNA from the same organism.

“One of the arguments from a genetic modification standpoint that folks have had concern with is the fact that you’re using DNA from another species in order to rectify the problem within a certain species,” Thiel said. “This allows for modification within the same species.”

However, as  with GMOs, some people oppose CRISPR technology, though Clover Adams said it can make processes like this better for both the animal and the vet.

Everyone has a right to question and to want to learn more, Thiel said, and as the application of CRISPR becomes more widespread, the industry needs to be transparent and ensure the public is informed about how it will benefit them.

As with CRISPR, Clover Adams said the department will watch the move towards technologies such as lab-produced meat with interest.

While she isn’t certain the public will accept the new tech, if they do, it bodes well for the adoption of other new technologies in food production, she said.

“I’ve always been amazed that, as human beings, we accept our smartphones and what the doctor does to our body, but we won’t accept that same technology in food production,” Clover Adams said.

CRISPR technology is relatively new and Thiel said she couldn’t estimate when the first CRISPR-modified product might hit shelves.However, she said she’s cautiously optimistic and excited for the tech to be in their toolbox.

“There are really issues that are plaguing our members and our ability to produce food here in the state of Michigan, inside the United States and outside, in regards to disease pressures, insect issues and whatnot,” Thiel said.

“If this is an opportunity to help us continue to provide a safe, nutritious, healthy food supply, then we want to continue to allow for innovation and see where this leads us,” she said.

Wineries rise in Michigan but more grapes needed

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s wine industry continues to grow with the number of approved commercial wineries rising from 55 to 138 in the past 10 years.

Although Michigan is the fourth-largest grape-growing state, an inadequate supply of Michigan-grown grapes, rather than possible oversaturation of the market, might be the industry’s major concern, said Karel Bush, the executive director of the state’s Grape and Wine Industry Council.

Current in-state and out-of-state markets are sufficient for existing wineries to survive, Bush said. So is the acreage for vineyards in the state.

“There is absolutely room for continued growth in the number of wineries in all regions of the state,” she said. “Just take a look at Napa Valley. It has more than 400 wineries in an area about twice the size of the Leelanau Peninsula, which has just 26 wineries.”

As a co-owner of Spare Key Winery, a newly approved winery in Charlevoix, Jean McCarthy said she doesn’t believe the state is oversaturated in the number of wineries.

The other newly approved wineries are in Baroda, Detroit, Hastings, Shelby Township, Roseville, Watervliet and Onsted.

“We continue to expand our vineyard each year,” McCarthy said. “We will continue to add to our wine selections and continue to offer our wines for sale through our tasting room. We offer 11 types of wine for sale, consisting of seven grape wines and four fruit wines.”

For most Michigan wineries, the great majority of sales are made from their tasting rooms or in local restaurants and retailers. “Selling locally provides greater profit potential,” Bush said,  “even for the largest wineries that have more distribution.”

The wines made in Michigan are similar in style to classic European wines that consumers are familiar with.

“Our cool climate and unique growing conditions, like the ‘lake effect’ from Lake Michigan, result in wines with flavors and aromas unique to our region,” Bush said. “A chardonnay grown in Michigan will not taste the same as one grown in California. That regional character is very desirable.”

Bush said that beyond the state’s borders, Michigan wines are appearing in restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C. and even San Francisco. “Those placements are the result of very hard work on the part of the winery, establishing relationships with chefs and wine professionals in key markets,” Bush said.

Peter Anastor, director of the Agriculture Development Division in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the agency is promoting wineries, including educating winery owners about exporting their products to international markets.

“And we also try to promote our products as much as we can throughout the country and make sure people are aware of some of the attributes of Michigan wines,” Anastor said.

According to Bush, the largest out-of-state market for Michigan wineries is Illinois, especially the Chicago area.

“Some wineries in Southwest Michigan tell us that more than half their sales are to visitors from the Chicago area,” Bush said. “Those visitors see Michigan as their ‘local’ wine region.”

Gov. Rick Snyder mentioned the industry in his recent State of the State address. “The economic impact of that industry is now $5.5 billion industry, up from $300 million in 2005,” he said.

Michigan wineries supported more than 47,000 jobs and contributed nearly $253 million in tourism spending last year, according to the Grape and Wine Industry Council.

One of the primary challenges the industry faces is an inadequate supply of wine grapes grown in the state, Bush said.

“We currently have just over 3,000 acres of wine grapes around the state, and to meet the increased demand for Michigan wine, that acreage needs to increase every year,” she said. “But suitable vineyard property is expensive, and when you plant vines, you have to nurture them for three to four years before you get enough to produce a salable quantity.”

Also, a spring freeze is a double-edged sword for growers.

Matt Moersch, a winemaker and distiller at Round Barn Winery in Baroda, said, “It affects us with either a total loss, depending on the stage of the plant, or some natural thinning which improves overall fruit quality.”

According to Moersch, the only way to solve the supply problem is to keep farmers growing grapes in the state. “We need to be able to inform future growers and showcase what we are currently doing successfully.”

New technologies have been brought into the industry, such as Flash Détente introduced at Black Star Farms north of Traverse City.

This technology reduces negative effects of widely changing weather on grapes. It improves grape colors and flavors to produce higher-quality red wine.

Besides the technologies, the state is providing education and training to grape growers and wine makers.

For example, Bush said the Grape and Wine Industry Council organizes an annual conference with sessions on grape production, wine production, business management, sales and marketing. The 2018 conference is scheduled for Feb. 28 through March 2 in Kalamazoo.

“Michigan State University Extension also has an education program for all agricultural operations, including grape growers,” Bush said.

Anastor said he’s confident about the future growth of the industry. “There’s a lot more capacity to grow wine grapes here in Michigan and to increase the volume of production,” he said.

Wildlife cooperatives boost conservation and habitat

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – According to research studies on their perception about land use, many farmers’ attitudes are still rooted in using their private land to grow crops, focusing on increasing productivity.

Fewer of them would think about taking conservation actions, the studies found.

However, what if these activities are not wildlife-friendly? What if these types of land management hurt wildlife habitat?

“There are some people who don’t have interest in wildlife. Some agriculture practices and different land use practices are not good for pheasants,” said AI Stewart, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) upland game bird specialist.

But landowners have the right to manage their property as they choose, he said.

Anna Mitterling of Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) has worked for more than three years to broaden the perceptions of landowners and break land-use stereotypes.

Mitterling, the organization’s wildlife cooperative coordinator, promotes a comprehensive program to assist landowners in better land management and planning for future needs.  

The Michigan Wildlife Cooperative is a voluntary conservation effort supported by the DNR, the Quality Deer Management Association, Pheasants Forever and MUCC.

A wildlife cooperative gathers private landowners, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to enhance their local wildlife and habitat. The participants share their wildlife experiences with each other, accumulate more knowledge of wildlife from activities,  improve relationships with neighbors and have a chance to use land management techniques on a bigger scale.

Currently, Michigan has 120 wildlife cooperatives, a number that has been increasing since 1991, according to the MUCC.

“The ones I work with are often larger over time, with 25 or so members, and 3,000 -12,000 acres of combined properties,” Mitterling said.

Deer cooperatives and pheasant cooperatives are two of the major types in Michigan.

Deer cooperatives focus on the quality of deer herds. Pheasant cooperatives work to create and enhance grassland habitats.

“In our deer cooperative, we have an annual buck pole, we do a youth deer pole on the weekend of the youth hunt and we work with the DNR to put a plane in the air to look for poachers,” said Harold Wolf, the president of the Southern Mecosta Whitetail Management Association.

Wolf said cooperatives are good for the people who join: He got to know his neighbors better, felt pride in improving the deer herd and shared happy experiences and memories with family and friends.

As for pheasant cooperatives, Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative leader David Ames said, “Most of us are hunters. We focus on creating grassland habitat pheasant can survive in.”

His cooperative is based in Lenawee County.

Despite such benefits, some landowners decide not to take part.

“The biggest challenge for us is finding private landowners that want to participate,” Ames said.

One reason for landowner concern is the size of their property. Many think their land is too small to support conservation activities, Ames said. “A small amount of land, like 20 acres, would be big enough that we can help them to do something on it,” he added.

Ames also stressed the significance and necessity of wildlife and land use education.

In terms of the land use stereotypes, Ames suggested more outreach and said that elementary education about wildlife conservation may lead to more changes in property owners’ attitudes and land use stereotypes.

Rick Lucas, a wildlife and forestry professional with the Mecosta/Osceola Lake Conservation District in Reed City, said, “The common denominator of every natural resource and conservation issue across the state is people.”

Sara Kross, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at California State University, Sacramento, researched the impact of farmers’ perceptions on their conservation activities.

She found a positive relationship between their perceptions and conservation efforts. For instance, general farmers thought perching birds and bats significantly help control insect pests, while fruit farmers view them negatively.

Accordingly, fruit farmers are less likely to try to protect perching birds and bats, Kross’ study said.