Michigan farmers struggle to fill seasonal jobs

Capital News Service
LANSING — The fall farming season in West Michigan has ended, but the future need for migrant workers remains. The Michigan Farm Bureau said migrant workers fill about 40,000 seasonal jobs on fruit and vegetable farms but the number is decreasing. Migrant workers are starting to see education and a permanent job as necessary, leading them away from temporary jobs that depend on time and place, Craig Anderson, manager of agricultural labor and safety services at the Farm Bureau said. “When you look at the jobs that agriculture has available, they’re unfortunately based on climates. Those three-to-six-week jobs are the types we are having a very difficult time filling,” Anderson said.

Programs for beginning farmers on the rise

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.

New farm workers come from Eastern Europe

Capital News Service
LANSING – Few people are interested in the hard, dirty toil of farm labor. But hard work is nothing new for some in a transitory lifestyle already long-lived. Experts from the Michigan Farm Bureau say an influx of farm workers from Eastern Europe seeks those gritty jobs because they’re used to doing them. Craig Anderson, who manages the agricultural safety and labor services department at the bureau, said an increasing number of workers from that area of the world are finding jobs involving dairy or livestock. Anderson said the increase is unlikely to make up for a feared labor shortage as the agricultural industry struggles to recover from last year’s unseasonable weather and drought.

Potato plantings potentially poised to push production

Capital News Service
LANSING – With a cool, moist climate and deep, sandy and loamy soils, Michigan has always been a good place to grow potatoes, and the traditional crop is expanding. The latest target may be the Northeastern Lower Peninsula, where suitable soil is available, according to Wayne Wood, the president of Michigan Farm Bureau. Some farmland there has lain dormant for years. “We are opening them up because we have the potato industry growing in Michigan and the land’s soil is productive for potatoes.”

With the development of drought-tolerant technology in crops and Michigan’s fresh-water resources, we may see an expansion of potato acres in northeastern Michigan,” Wood said. Ken Nye, the horticulture specialist at the Farm Bureau said, “These areas have the right soil, climate and water capabilities for potato production.”
Access to water for irrigation is critically important for potato growing, Nye said.

Tart cherry insurance program may arrive next year

Capital News Service
LANSING – Last year’s tart cherry loss has inspired a flurry of activity to explore federal crop insurance to protect Michigan growers. Wayne Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, said, “The reason they didn’t have crop insurance before is that it’s such a small industry, and small companies couldn’t make the investment and do the research to justify the policy.”
According to the Risk Management Agency, the majority of specialty crops – like tart cherries – in the state aren’t eligible for insurance. They include asparagus, cucumbers, squash, Christmas trees, sweet corn, strawberries, honey, celery and maple syrup. “And quite frankly, when you haven’t had an event like this since 1945, are you really going to buy insurance?” Wood said. “The demand was low and the demand is high today, as you would expect.”
Many specialty crops do have insurance programs, like apples, blueberries, potatoes, grapes, onions, peaches and tomatoes.

Farm program expansion could reduce pollution

Capital News Service
LANSING — A proposal to increase state spending on the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) would reduce pollution from farm operations in the next few years, advocacy groups said. The voluntary program helps farmers evaluate their operation and make them economically and environmentally sustainable. More than 1,000 verifications have occurred in the past decade. The Snyder administration said the $1 million proposed for 2012-13 could pay off with five times that many verifications by 2015. If approved by the Legislature, it would almost double state funding for the program from this year’s $586,400.