By EDITH ZHOU
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