Calls for national cattle tracking system follow Michigan’s success

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan was the first state to implement a mandatory cattle traceability program.

Michigan was prompted in 2007 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis to better track beef and dairy cattle from the farm to the consumer.

All Michigan cattle must be identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags before they are moved. The tags are scanned by readers when they leave a farm or go to a slaughter house. A state database tracks their location.

Cattle tracking should be done nationwide, said Daniel Buskirk, an associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University.

“There are diseases in the live animal that I’d like to be able to track back, things like bovine tuberculosis or foot-and-mouth disease,” Buskirk said. “If it’s found, I want to know what the origin of it is, so that we don’t spread it further and cause losses of livestock.”

Michigan has 1.14 million head of cattle , according to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan cattle and calves cash receipts totaled $529 million in 2016.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently reported that only four states mandate cattle traceback systems. The other three are Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but each of their systems is different. International markets are driving the need for tracking cattle, said Ernie Birchmeier, the livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The association estimates that 61 percent of global beef exports come from countries with effective national traceability systems.

“There are a lot of discussions going on across the United States right now regarding implementation of a national animal ID system,” Birchmeier said.

Livestock traceability was the main topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, he said. “And there was broad consensus from the group that we need to move forward and implement a cattle traceability program in the country.

“There will be distractors, and there will be those who don’t want to follow the program, but the international market ultimately is going to dictate traceability in our cattle industry. Our foreign partners want to know where the animals came from, the type of feeding programs,” Birchmeier said.

If Michigan didn’t have a system, it would be extremely difficult for the state to not only export beef, but also export cattle or market cattle outside the state because of bovine TB, Buskirk said.

“Other states would not be interested in buying cattle from Michigan, so that will ultimately hurt our markets,” he said.

The system allowed the state to resume supplying other states that had barred Michigan cattle when the bovine TB problem started, said Monte Bordner, the owner of Bordner Farms in Sturgis.

Bordner was an early supporter of the program.

It didn’t immediately catch on:  “Change terrifies people,” Bordner said. Some people didn’t want to pay $3 for a each tag.

“Some people don’t want any government involvement in anything.”

According to the national association report, 95 percent of Michigan cattle producers comply  with the tracking program.That, Buskirk said, is “pretty good.”

“Regardless, in my opinion, it’s a fairly small price to pay to have export markets that add more value to our products in the long term,” Buskirk said.

 

European wine shortage might not affect price of Michigan wine

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING – While poor weather in Europe appears poised to raise wine prices worldwide, Michigan’s own grapes might grow unhindered.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, wine production hit a historic low in 2017, spurred by poor weather in the European Union and other important producers.  

However, Michigan vineyards might not raise their prices just to fall in line, according to Chateau Grand Traverse Winery President Eddie O’Keefe.

Most smaller wineries depend on direct-to-consumer business, such as in-person tastings or mail order sales, rather than retail stores, where they compete side by side with higher-priced European wines, O’Keefe said. That’s why many Michigan wineries won’t see price spikes from market forces.

Most U.S. wineries are “mom ‘n pop” operations, O’Keefe said: Global issues indirectly affect them, but in a way a lot of the small wineries are oblivious to them. There’s always competition, but smaller wineries have easier ways to determine their own destinies, he said.

“If it doesn’t affect you directly, most of the time people don’t care,” O’Keefe said.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery, located near Traverse City, has been in business for 44 years, O’Keefe said, and was the first commercial winery and vineyard in Northern Michigan. Now, a large number of wineries cluster the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas north of Traverse City, and can be found scattered throughout the state.

Northern Michigan wineries had devastating production years in 2014 and 2015, but had good years in 2016 and 2017, O’Keefe said.

Every winery is impacted differently by a different year’s success, O’Keefe said. On average a really bad year where costs are high could take one and a half years to recover from, while two bad years in a row can really adversely affect business.

Most Michigan wineries are now stocked with product in their inventories, so he doesn’t see any reason for prices of local wines to rise. A bad year for Europe weather-wise might not mean a bad year for Michigan.

“That’s agriculture — you take the good with the bad. Some years you have bumper crops, other years you have to suck it up,” O’Keefe said.

Wineries that compete for shelf space might be a different situation.

Potential tariffs could also impact wine prices, O’Keefe said.

China tacked on an additional 15 percent tariff on U.S. wine exports in early April in response to escalating trade tensions. American wine exports might be priced out of Chinese markets, and larger U.S. wineries would have to repurpose those exports, potentially flooding U.S. markets with cheap wine and lowering domestic prices, O’Keefe said.

This year’s wine production hasn’t started because there’s still snow on the ground, but if there’s no frost through May, O’Keefe said 2018 could be a good year for wine production in Michigan.

Wine continues to be a growing industry in Michigan, and O’Keefe said he sees no reason why it won’t continue to grow.

“The only thing that would mess with that is good ‘ol Mother Nature,” O’Keefe said.

 

Fate of Michigan rivers, Chinese soybeans tied to emerging research concept

By LAUREN CARAMAGNO
Capital News Service

LANSING — What do Chinese soybean farmers have in common with the health of Michigan’s rivers?

While their relationship may not seem obvious, both are now studied through an emerging concept in scientific research called telecoupling.

That’s when researchers connect the science of human behavior with the study of ecology to better understand how the world is connected. It’s a technique that can help experts predict future natural disasters and environmental needs.

“This is a novel way of approaching problems in which humans and environment in one area are connected to humans and environment in another area,” said Anna Herzberger, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

Scientists are increasingly optimistic that understanding these connections can provide more accurate predictions of environmental disasters, Herzberger said. That allows the creation of policies to better balance people and the environment.

The idea of coupled human and natural systems isn’t new. The new aspect of this framework is finding connections among systems around the world.

The concept is exemplified by Chinese soybean farmers switching to grow corn and rice due to the large amount of imported soybeans from the United States and Brazil.

The change in crops could reduce soil quality, Herzberger said.

That environmental effect has the potential to cause China to buy more corn and rice from U.S. farmers, Herzberger said.  

Or the exact opposite: It could cause the Chinese government to create incentives to grow soybeans again, therefore needing less from the U.S.

Understanding that relationship could help stabilize global effects of farmers in the world soybean trade, Herzberger said.

In the case of the health of Michigan’s rivers, the telecoupling framework combined ecological data gathered from Michigan anglers and the Department of Natural Resources representatives to better predict trout distribution in a changing climate.

Andrew Carlson, another doctoral candidate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU, developed a computerized system that brings together social and environmental data to predict climate changing effects on Michigan’s trout.

The tool is based on local data, but the goal is to gather information globally to better predict what affects trout locations in and beyond Michigan, Carlson said.

Future research will focus on how people interact with the environment, perceive fish management and encounter natural resources via angling or tourism, Carlson said.

“The telecoupling framework connects human systems and ecosystems in ways that have never been identified before,” Carlson said.

People study fisheries on a local scale, but this framework challenges scientists to look at the bigger picture to study worldwide influences as well, Carlson said.

Others have already made similar connections. For example, MSU researcher Jiangua “Jack” Liu discovered how promoting conservation of pandas in zoos around the world increased conservation efforts of their habitats in China.

People are only beginning to understand the interactions among coupled human and natural systems in fisheries and wildlife, Carlson said. New and helpful ways to apply that understanding are likely to emerge as more is learned about them.

“The telecoupling framework allows us to create predictive models to better design environmental policies with knowledge of their effects on people and the environment,” he said.  The real benefit could be an increased quality of life with less risk to persons and property.

Lauren Caramagno writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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.”