Productivity boost offsets acreage, price declines of corn

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — Soon Michigan farmers will start planting millions of acres of corn, cultivating what has become a billion-dollar business in the state. Farming is one of the top three industries in Michigan, and corn one of the top crops. “Agriculture in Michigan has been a growing industry, contributing a great deal to the state’s economy,” said Kate Thiel, a field crop specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau and its 46,500 member farmers. One of the largest crops in Michigan is corn, Thiel said. Michigan farmers grew about 2.4 million acres of corn for grain in 2016, generating $1.1 billion last year – despite a price drop.

Young farmers excited about working with communities

By KAREN HOPPER USHER
Capital News Service
LANSING — In the past few weeks, 35-year-old John Krohn estimates his urban farm in Lansing has donated 40 pounds of food to people in need. But don’t call it giving back. “I don’t feel like I’m giving back because I don’t owe anybody anything,” Krohn said. Call it community. A community Krohn said he relies on as a market, and the community where he has chosen to live.

Programs for beginning farmers on the rise

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service
LANSING — On average, the state’s farmers are 56 years old, according to Michigan Farm Bureau. But an interest in local and organic food might yield a younger, fresher crop of farmers. “It has a lot to do with people being awakened to the issue that the food system is broken and there are a lot of opportunities to fix it and also make a living,” said Lindsey Scalera, the Canton-based co-chair of the Michigan Young Farmers Coalition. “It’s tough. People’s farms do fail.

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

By JORDAN BRADLEY
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.

Michigan farm officials oppose federal authority expansion over water

By ASHLEY WEIGEL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan farm officials are fighting an attempt by the federal Environmental Protection agency to regulate small bodies of water, saying that a new permit process would make construction and farming more expensive and time-consuming. It would affect “anyone who puts a shovel in the ground,” said Laura Campbell, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau’s agricultural ecology department. Farmers will need more permits approved by the EPA for things like nutrient applications, basic pest control and adapting new land for farming, she said. EPA is suggesting new rules under the Clean Water Act that would give it jurisdiction over more bodies of water. That includes water that could run into a stream that is already under its jurisdiction and areas that are only wet during flood seasons.

Michigan farmers seek better Internet access

By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING – For farmers, tablets are becoming as common as tractors… and that means higher demand for broadband Internet access. Farmers are increasingly turning to technology to help track weather, map the spreading of fertilizers and seeds, and follow prices for input and services. But Internet access in rural areas lags behind urban areas. Around one-third of rural households and farms nationwide lack broadband Internet, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Copper thieves hit farm irrigation systems

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN
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.

Farmers markets expand services as demand for local produce grows

By PATRICK HOWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING— The demand for fresh, local produce has boosted a statewide uptick in the number of farmers markets. And a state grant program aims at ensuring low-income communities don’t miss out on such opportunities. Katharine Czarnecki, community programs manager at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), the agency that provides the grants, said farmers markets benefit both job creation and health and create social bonds that help communities. Czarnecki said the agency developed the Farm to Food grant program in 2010 to help three areas: urban development, agricultural infrastructure and a “passive solar system loan fund” used to construct “hoop houses” that can grow vegetables year-round.

Feds revisit proposed limits on young workers

By PATRICK HOWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING – Faced with considerable opposition from state farmers, the U.S. Department of Labor is reconsidering regulations that would exclude children 16 and younger from most farm work. The regulations would prohibit young people from milking cows, feeding cattle, stacking hay bales higher than 6 feet, picking fruit from ladders more than 6 feet tall and operating basic farm equipment – except on farms wholly owned by their parents. Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt Pleasant, said the proposed rule is a case of the federal government over-stepping its boundaries and playing the role of “expert” in an area it knows nothing about. Cotter said many farmers have contacted him in opposition to the regulations, indicating the measure’s unpopularity. “Agriculture is the second-largest industry in the state,” Cotter said.

State pushes to recruit farm workers

By JENNIFER CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – The state is urging farmers to use its recruitment system to find migrant and seasonal labor to harvest such crops as cucumbers, cherries and strawberries. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Workforce Development Agency are promoting what they say is the underused Agricultural Recruitment System. The push to find workers through centralized job postings comes despite the state’s high jobless rate. The number of unemployed people in the state is 431,490, which is 0.8 percent higher than the national rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But agricultural employment specialists say the farmers are still seeking seasonal labor.