By JULIA BARATTA
SCOTTS, Mich. — On July 2, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton toured three Michigan farms while on holiday break from Congress, and met with producers to understand the issues they are dealing with right now.
He said he wanted to hear from constituents about the real numbers concerning planting and acreage along with other difficulties from unstable weather conditions, and their results upon farm operations.
Upton, a Republican from District 6, visited farms in Berrien, Van Buren, and Kalamazoo counties. The stops included Russell Costanza Farms in Sodus, a large vegetable operation with numerous acres of tomatoes; Hood Dairy Farms in Paw Paw; and Gibson Farms in Scotts, a 4,000-acre operation growing corn, soybeans, and hay.
All three have dealt with struggles this spring as their farmers tried to plant crops, care for animals, and plan for the future. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested a USDA Secretarial Disaster Designation, which the majority of the Michigan Congressional delegation signed onto and said they appreciated her initiative.
The request was made because 64 out of the state’s 83 counties needed assistance due to the wet spring. It has been recorded that nearly 38 inches of rain fell between May 1, 2018-April 30, 2019. This unusually high precipitation made the spring of 2019 the third-wettest in Michigan history.
Combined with the heavy snowfall, extreme temperatures, flash flooding, and tornadoes, many in the agricultural industry are having a difficult time. “I supported a disaster supplemental appropriation bill ... which has $3 billion reserved for ag,” Upton said. “I think Michigan should qualify for some of that money.”
This comes with the understanding that many, if not all, crops were planted 2-3 weeks late. Unfortunately, it was also noted that some acres were not planted at all, leaving them fallow. Options were discussed as to what can be planted and how farmers can work with those crops.
Cover crops will be allowed on prevent-plant acres for use in grazing, haying, and chopping for silage. The date has been moved to Sept. 1, earlier than the usual Nov. 1. It was also highlighted that these crops cannot be sold; rather, the farmer is allowed to use it themselves or donate it.
“We are going to try to clarify that point, because there was some concern as some farmers work with others to provide for their needs,” Upton explained.
Financing came up in the conversations, as producers wanted to confirm that low-interest loans will be available if needed.
One dairy farmer shared his experience that he had just finished planting the Saturday before, but was going to be good though he was a month late in getting seeds in. He plans to chop silage for a couple months, and can use it. Other farmers weren’t as positive, as they looked back on the spring and realized how much they are going to lose.
The discussion turned to the future and concerns for harvest time. Are the crops going to be mature enough to harvest? What about being dry enough to store? One farmer noted while one of his grain bins hadn’t been used much, this year he was filling it and putting it to work. Frost dates were also brought up.
Manure application was talked about, with a “window of opportunity” being available for the farmer to work within but due to governmental regulations, it is presenting challenges for being properly done. “And every time there’s another regulation to limit when they can apply, that tightens it up even more,” Michigan Farm Bureau District 1 Director Brigette Leach said.
Those producers with animals are also looking at feed shortages as a real possibility. Delayed planting will cause a later harvest, resulting in a need to find other alternatives for feeding livestock.
Some concerns were raised that recently published USDA crop numbers didn’t reflect reality, and would aid be less because of that? It was reported, for example, that Michigan has 63 percent of its corn crop in, with 43 percent of soybeans planted as of June 9.
Upton listened to those he visited with the intention of sharing the information with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, in a letter. He said he and other members of Congress are stepping up to assist in the ways they can, by relaxing some regulations, offering financial support, and presenting options for farmers.