EAST LANSING – Farmers in Michigan are dealing with the aftermath of bad weather this spring leaving many acres unplanted while they hope crops planted later in the season can fully mature, and they continue to reel from continuing trade disputes, a joint panel of the House and Senate Agriculture committees was told Tuesday.
While state and federal programs are available to help farmers in the state who couldn’t plant crops on more than 870,000 acres – 17.3 percent of state agricultural land – recoup losses, some have had rough years even before the most recent wet spring.
And farmers are just one facet of the industry. If they are not working, those who repair their equipment or process their crops also have less work.
In Michigan, 17.3 percent of farmland was not planted this year compared to the national average of 7 percent, former Rep. Joel Johnson, the state executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, told lawmakers.
Johnson said the federal government offers assistance to farmers affected by tariffs, but there is not enough to full make up the losses farmers face with China cutting back its exports.
“You just don’t make up for a country like China real easily,” he said.
Tim Boring, vice president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, echoed the same concerns about challenging weather, but said it could get better while the trade issue isn’t going away.
He said the country’s historical trade partners in the European Union, Canada and Mexico purchased products from the United States and many were specific to Michigan.
“We have damaged our trade relationships with our historically close partners here. A lot of these partners had sourced the majority of their production from the United States, but that is not going to be a situation they’re likely to put themselves in again moving forward,” Boring said.
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell said it has been a tough year for Michigan farmers, and it will affect the state in the short-term and long-term.
“The bad weather has really taken a toll on Michigan’s farmers ability to prepare to plant their fields as they normally would,” he said.
McDowell said the department is working with the federal government to help find farmers assistance and ensure all resources are made available.
“We are all in this together,” he said. “And let’s hope for a late frost this year.”
Stephanie Schafer, a dairy farmer in Clinton County, said she appreciates the low-interest loan program made available this year for farmers, but said she has had a rough five years and doesn’t know if she could utilize the program.
“I am just one farmer. A small farmer, 300 cows,” she said. “Can you imagine what 1,000-cow guys are going through? They are going around the countryside and they are trying to buy corn that got in early enough from other farmers to try to feed those cows. It is a concern.”
She said the corn she has planted this year won’t mature and won’t provide the energy necessary for her cows to produce milk next year. If the cows don’t produce milk, she makes less money, she said.
Schafer also said if the corn she is growing isn’t good quality, she also has to worry about the health of her cows.
Doug Darling, a Monroe County farmer, said with the bad weather, two-thirds of his operation is not planted. He said everyone in the Midwest is dealing with crops planted later that may not mature. He said that will affect livestock and incomes moving forward.
“The biggest problem is not the spring. I think it has yet to show itself,” Mr. Darling said, pointing to the crops planted later that will have difficulty maturing or won’t mature at all.
He said the crops planted late, like corn and soybeans, will weigh less and be lower quality. He said farmers are 7-14 days behind currently in some areas.
“This will lead to a slow and tedious harvest,” he said. “And a late harvest.”
Darling also said with these weather-related problems, young people are less likely to come into the industry and those who did are leaving. Mr. McDowell also cited problems in the workforce.
Darling said farmers are the “soldiers” in the current trade dispute. He said farmers are grateful for the USDA assistance but are also concerned with the signup dates as farmers look at a marginal crop and late harvest. He said farmers would have to sign up for the program in October as they will be focused on harvest.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service.