State's ag exports to China skyrocket

Capital News Service
LANSING — In the past five years, more and more of Michigan’s dairy products and prepared fruits and vegetables have been on their way to China, according to export data from Euromonitor International Ltd. From 2010 to 2014, the dollar value of dairy product exports to China skyrocketed 688 percent, according to the London-based economic analysis firm. In that same time period, the dollar value of prepared fruit and vegetable exports, which include dried tart cherries, rose almost four-fold. Chris Wolf, a professor of agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University, said U.S. dairy products — specifically powdered milk — took hold in the Chinese market following that country’s baby formula scandal in 2008. The result of the scandal was a loss of confidence in domestic dairy products, Wolf said.

More women turning to agriculture, experts say

Capital News Service
LANSING – With Michigan’s food and agriculture system supporting more than 920,000 jobs, 24,795 of those workers operate farms as their primary occupation. Now things are taking a turn in this predominantly and traditionally male field. There are almost one million female farmers in the U.S., and Michigan alone saw a 17.6 percent increase in women in agriculture between 2007 and 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Shakara Tyler, an undeserved farmer development specialist at Michigan State University, said that although women have always been key players on family farms, now they are the fastest-growing farming population in the country. And they’re finally receiving recognition for their work.

Pesticide levels in rivers may threaten fish, insects

Capital News Service
LANSING — Pesticides, mostly from agricultural runoff and yard use, remain a concern for fish and insects in many of the country’s streams and rivers, warns a national study based in part on research done in Michigan. Although levels of pesticides usually didn’t exceed benchmarks for human health, their potential to harm aquatic life is likely underestimated, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey, part of the U.S. Interior Department. That’s because the agency can afford to monitor “less than half of the more than 400 pesticides currently used in agriculture, and monitoring focused only on pesticides dissolved in water.”

U.S. farms use more than half a billion pounds of pesticides each year to boost crop production and reduce insect-borne disease. “Some of these pesticides are occurring at concentrations that pose a concern for aquatic life,” the Geological Survey said. An environmental scientist at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station said the study shows a need for more research about “potential interactive effects of pesticides and other organic contaminants in aquatic ecosystems.
“The report is important as the best systematic evaluation we have,” said Stephen Hamilton, a professor of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry at the research station near Kalamazoo.

A shortage of labor is forcing farmers to face tough decisions about next year's peach crops

Capital News Service
LANSING – A shortage of labor is forcing farmers face tough decisions about next year’s peach crops. Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that some peach and asparagus farmers are resorting to ripping their crops out of the fields to replace them with crops that are easier to harvest, like cherries, which can be gathered by machine. “We’re seeing the number of peach trees go down,” Clover Adams said, “because there just isn’t enough labor.”
Arthur Lister of Lister Orchards in Ludington grows clingstone peaches, the variety used for processing. He has had a typical experience with his peaches this year: no labor to help harvest. “We have enough market uncertainty, like any business,” Lister said.

Getting a job after 55 may require ‘Shifting Gears’

Capital News Service
LANSING – If you’re 55 or older and hunting for a job, good luck. Michigan is one of the worst states for your employment prospects. Governing Magazine recently reported data showing nationwide employment-to-population ratios, a common economic measure of what proportion of a state’s eligible working-age population is employed. Michigan is the third worst in the nation for older workers, just behind Arkansas and West Virginia, at 32.3 percent of residents 55 and older employed. The report suggested a link between stronger agricultural economies and better employment ratios for older workers.

State needs more markets, fresh food to reduce obesity

Capital News Service
LANSING – People in urban and rural areas need better access to healthy food, the Michigan Food Policy Council said in its new report. Michigan faces the problem of having food accessible to markets, just not in all the right locations. That problem prompted groups like the Michigan Food Policy Council to take action, said Jane Whitacre, its director. The council is a commission set up by the state with members representing areas such as agriculture, industry and education. A few years ago, more than 400 food advocates convened to put together a “road map” to build Michigan’s economy by improving its use of agriculture, she said.

Some farmers bank on drought-resistant corn

Capital News Service
LANSING – Despite heavy rain, flooding and cold weather, drought-resistant corn could still be helpful to farmers this season. Michigan Corn Growers Association leaders agreed that recent wet weather won’t be bad for corn designed to withstand drought conditions because it will be planted in areas that don’t hold water as well. They added that the corn could still serve its original purpose if there’s little rain in July and August. “Just because we have a bunch of rain now doesn’t mean there won’t be a drought later,” said Scott Lonier, owner of Shady Lodge Farm in Lansing Township and president of the association. However, he said he didn’t buy drought-resistant corn this year because it didn’t yield much better than refuge corn – corn that’s not genetically modified – last year.

Conditions still challenge migrant farmworkers

Capital News Service
LANSING – They work long, grueling hours in the blistering sun. Nearly half of the 90,000 migrant laborers in the state were under the age of 13 in 2010, according to the Department of Civil Rights. And the average migrant family makes between $12,255 and $16,773 a year, according to state estimates – far below the federal poverty line of $27,570 for a family of four. But they are the backbone of the state’s agricultural industry, traveling from Florida to Michigan and back again, year after year. They are migrant workers, And Marylou Olivarez-Mason used to be one of them.

Copper thieves hit farm irrigation systems

Capital News Service
LANSING – They strike at nightfall, attaching heavy cables to trucks to rip exposed copper from irrigation systems and hawk it to unscrupulous scrap dealers. They are petty thieves, often methamphetamine addicts, investigators say. And they’re costing farmers thousands of dollars in repair costs and insurance rate hikes. Experts say the problem coincides with the rise and fall of copper prices. During the 2009 stock market crash thefts were rare.

Fewer Michigan chestnuts roasting over an open fire this year

Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan’s chestnut growers are facing the same problems other fruit growers confront this year. The early surge of temperatures in March and the inevitable cold weather in April and May curtailed nut production, just as it did for apples and cherries. “Our yield is about a quarter of last year’s,” said Joyce Ivory, the sales representative of Chestnut Growers Inc. (CGI), Michigan’s only chestnut grower coorperative based in Jackson. Ivory grows 20 acres of chestnut trees with her husband in Hadley Township near Flint. “There are huge demands and our supply can’t meet them,” she said.