Michigan’s Thriving Agriculture Industry

There are 52,000 farmers scattered across the state, providing an abundance of various crops, creating a thriving agriculture industry in Michigan. Kate Thiel, crop specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau, spoke about the state’s agricultural opportunities.

“It’s important to understand that we’re the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, second only to California,” she said.

During the 2017 State of the State address, Governor Snyder cited farmers as providing food and fiber throughout the 10 million farmland acres. The agricultural industry contributes $101.2 billion to Michigan’s economy annually. Agriculture, crop and product-processing and related businesses make up a large portion of the mitten’s jobs, employing 923,000 people — about 22 percent of the state’s population.

Michigan ranks in the top 10 in the nation for different crop commodities, including dry beans, cherries, blueberries, cucumbers, sugar beets, beef, Christmas trees, dairy, wheat and corn.

Kevin Robson, horticulture specialist at Michigan Farm Bureau, spoke about one of the state’s most popular fruit crops, apples.

“In Michigan, we’re home to 35,000 to 36,000 acres of apple trees. A lot of [apples] get sold fresh, but an overwhelming majority of them, more than half, are sold into the processing market,” he said. “So, they get processed and turned into things like apple juice, apple sauce and apple slices.”

These value-added products, including food companies like baby food giant Gerber, carrot processing plants in the West-Central regions, potato chip processing companies like Better Made, Great Lakes and Frito-Lay come together to form a $101 billion industry.

“It’s all those different commodities that create a product, then that product gets sold, and that adds value to the industry,” Robson said.

Thiel works with specific commodity groups like corn, soybeans, wheat, dry beans and sugar beets within her job at Michigan Farm Bureau. Her role also includes specialized biotechnology and bioenergy fields, utilizing and studying drone usage and ensuring Farm Bureau members are aware of legislative policies affecting their crops and farms.

Michigan ranks number one for black beans and small red beans, but fell to North Dakota as the number one producer of all dry beans in the nation. With varying temperatures across the state, including different patterns depending on whether you’re growing crops in the Upper Peninsula versus the Lower Peninsula, allow for a greater variety of crops to come out of Michigan.

Technology as well as weather play huge roles and impacts on crops and commodity groups.
“A lot of our producers in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas produce corn, soybeans and wheat,” Thiel said. “It’s amazing how technology has evolved and the weather has sort of evolved over time as well, what we can grow in our Upper Peninsula and in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula based on the number of growing days available.”

Approaching the planting season for sugar beets, there are some farmers in the thumb, places like Montcalm and Gratiot County, getting ready for the upswing in production. We’re also approaching the planting season for corn and soybeans.

According to Thiel, it’s hard to predict around the beginning of springtime just what will shake out long-term in terms of harvest.

Another one of Michigan’s popular crops is wheat, typically planted in the fall.

“For the most part, we grow winter wheat here in the state of Michigan, so it would have grown dormant,” Thiel said. “There’s been some concern about the fact that we had a rather light winter, it didn’t get cold until late, and it didn’t stay very cold, so that can affect the dormancy of the wheat itself.”

Because our weather isn’t as predictable as other states, Mother Nature plays a significant role in commodities, pricing and availability.

“That’s both a hindrance and a blessing because the Great Lakes sit around us,” she said, “as well as those weather patterns allow us to be the second most agriculturally diverse.”

The USDA released their projected planning acreage report on Friday, March 31, which predicts what farmers are going to plant. Data is gathered from farmers directly, however, the projections leave room for error in terms of weather or potential natural disasters which impact the fluctuating commodity market.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report, the state’s soybean acreage is expected to be up 14 percent, which is two times the U.S. increase. For 2017, the estimated 89.5 million acres of soybeans planted is up 7 percent from the previous year. Estimates for the corn planting outlook are down in Michigan 4 percent from 2016 and are expected to be down or remain unchanged in 38 states. Wheat acres are also estimated to be down 8 percent, the lowest nationwide acreage since 1919.

Overall though, Thiel has high hopes for the upcoming seasons.

“I’m hoping things continue to warm up and maybe precipitation will slow down just a touch so that as we come into the planting season here, folks can have a great spring — which sets us up for a great growing season this summer, and a great harvest season this coming fall.”

Given the uncertainty, farmers are the ultimate risk takers, if you ask Thiel.

“No two years are the same,” she said. “Farmers are great entrepreneurs for a reason. They do a great job rolling with the punches as things shake up throughout the year.”

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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