More farms up north mean opportunity, development

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Photo: mystuart (flickr)


LANSING — More farming opportunities have come to northern Michigan this year because of climate changes and global warming, agriculture experts say.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan is home to 10 million acres of farmland, but only 10 percent is in the northern parts.

Department Director Jamie Clover Adams said there are additional farming opportunities in the north (both the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula) and that there is a trend of more acres being farmed in those regions.

“In theory that would mostly be rooted in climate change enabling a longer growing season for areas in northern Michigan,” Jeremy  Nagel, the media relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said.

Nagel said, “Agriculture up there is mostly hay, some small grains, potatoes, beef cattle and dairy. When you reach the Lower Peninsula, that diversity shoots up to include all the yummy fruit such as apples, cherries and apricots.”

Jennifer Holton, the director of communications for the agriculture department, said, “With increased farming opportunity comes additional regional economic activities such as the new grain elevator built in Standish and corn hybrids in Ogemaw County.”

Jim Zook, the executive director of Michigan Corn, said the new technologies help corn expand north.

“We are creating more varieties such as hybrids which have shorter maturity time,” he said.

Zook also said that the higher farmland prices in southern Michigan are another reason agriculture is moving north.

“People are expanding out to make the best uses of these lands since they are far more expansive now.”

And Nagel said, “Even if they did sell their southern Michigan farm, that land would most likely be bought up by other farmers who’re staying put and looking to expand their operation.”

Nagel also said that any possible expansion of farming up north would likely remain relatively limited.

“The viability of agriculture in northern Michigan is constrained by more factors than just climate. There are substantial pockets of farming throughout northern Michigan, but because the soils up there are overall less suitable for crop cultivation, the expansion would be quite limited,” Nagel said.

Nagel also mentioned another reason that could limit any potential the expansion, namely the ownership of those lands.

“Millions of acres of those forests are off limits to private ownership because they’re owned and maintained by the government – set aside as state or national forest land. So even if the climate changed significantly and the soils magically improved, agricultural growth up there would still face the obstacle of inaccessible land resources,” he said.

 Editor’s Note: Story revised on Dec. 19, 2012

4 thoughts on “More farms up north mean opportunity, development

  1. I agree with the other commenters, and although is it a challenge to respond to the many misguided items in this article, it is important to do so. From the standpoint of reporting, it is very disturbing to see such a one sided and unbalanced reporting — there are many, obvious experts able to counter this glowing view of the future with climate disruption. The author owes it to her audience to provide the full story, not by the Farm Bureau’s PR.

    First and foremost, just last year we saw that climate disruption apparently led to the decimation of mainstay agricultural crops in northern Michigan, in particular sour cherries and apples. The idea that this is simple upward slope in the temperatures totally misunderstands and misapplies the science. The loss of predictability in weather patterns is devastating for agriculture. More drastic storm events have the capacity to wipe out crops, upset timing of planting and harvest, create drought and downpour situations, etc. The loss of snow and ice cover is potentially devastating to the long term availability of water on these lands. The impact on forests that can’t survive the climate disruption affects that sequestering of water as well.

    And lastly, the LAST thing Michigan needs is more corn, which is being fed into ethanol in far too great a quantity. Today, the state of Michigan has the second greatest diversity in our agricultural products of the states, with only California having more. The cost to this state of losing diversity is massive — today we theoretically can shut our borders and produce enough diverse food to feed ourselves. Who knows whether that will be possible as climate disruption continues to play out?

  2. I’m impressed with the author’s ability to pound a square peg into a round hole. The experts list several reasons a tiny bit more farming is taking place up north, several limiting factors and and Ms. Zhou is ready to move the HQ for Whole Foods to Ishpeming because of climate change.

  3. You are so right Harold. We can grow more potatoes in the U.P., but, we might lose the “bread basket” of the nation to desertification. Small minds find a silver lining in every cloud no matter how ominous.

  4. The thoughts expressed in this article are wrong on so many fronts that I find it best just to reserve comment in an attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity.

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