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Michigan’s Agriculture – Where Is the Vision for 2040?

Jan 23, 2023 | Agriculture, Economy, Future Planning, Michigan | 0 comments

Food production is not just nice to have – it’s essential. As the disruption of food shipment from Ukraine has shown, it’s somewhere between nice and essential to have it close to home. So, how is Michigan doing on producing food in the present? What is the vision for our food production in the 2040s when the next generation become adults?

Michigan’s agriculture sector is doing OK today

Michigan’s farm sector seem to be doing OK today. Michigan is ranked 10th among states in population and 17th in gross receipts of its farms. It also has a nice diversity of products. Michigan produces large harvests of fruits and flowers in addition to its major products — dairy, corn and soybeans.

The issues on the horizon seem manageable. Farm acreage has been stable. Michigan is undergoing a slow consolidation of farms but their average size around 200 acres is still half the U.S. average. There is worry about young people having the opportunity to be farm owners and operators, but the average full time farm operator in Michigan is in their forties, so there should not be a crisis of farm management in the near term.

So, why worry about the 2040s?

My brief study of farming in Michigan did not worry me that there will be a shortfall of food production when our kids become adults, despite climate change and generational succession. By 2040, Michigan may have the milder climate of Indiana, but Indiana has strong agricultural economies. Michigan can, too. Farming practices and crops may change, but production will continue.

There may be fewer kids interested in operating farms, but with the continued consolidation of farms, not as many will be needed. The real bottleneck may be farm labor, which immigration policy and mechanization can address.

What does bother me

What I could not find in my search was a vision about the future of farming in Michigan. The materials I consulted focus on historic trends, present news, and the near future. As far as I can tell, few are thinking about the opportunities we could create for better farming in the next couple decades. I have not been able to find any organizations that are thinking that far ahead or publishing well researched reports on desirable directions for Michigan’s food system. Please correct me if I have missed something!

If we were thinking ahead, we would be planning how to scale up best practices to improve on farming’s environmental issues. In Michigan, farming continues to create erosion of topsoil; water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides; air pollution from ammonia, dust and fuels; and the reduction of wildlife habitat. Practices have been developed to address all of these issues, but they have not been implemented at scale. Michigan does have a voluntary program in which farms can be certified on best practices to mitigate these issues, but so far only 600 farms have participated compared to 46,000 in the state. What if we offered interest free loans to farms that agreed to be certified?

If we were thinking ahead, we would be helping our farmers adapt to the advances in food technology. Our great food science university — Michigan State – would be holding seminars on alternative proteins, the process of creating meat substitutes, and new fermentation processes. Will Michigan farmers with their crop-based agriculture learn the trick of turning their crops into higher value products and leave other states behind?

The bottom line

Michigan’s agriculture seems OK today in the production of food. If we could pull together a broad-based effort of universities, departments of agriculture, legislative committees, and farmers we could create the knowledge, infrastructure, and incentives that would lead to a better food system for the 2040s. Let’s do it.

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