By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the USDA for a disaster designation for a number of counties in the state which experienced freezing temperatures earlier this year as well as excessive rain leading to floods.
“Our hardworking Michigan farmers are once again facing challenges due to weather following one of the toughest years in recent memory,” Whitmer said in an announcement June 30. “From freezing temperatures to flooding caused by dam failures and high-water levels following periods of prolonged rainfall, many of our producers are finding themselves in the midst of yet another difficult growing season. A disaster designation for impacted counties would provide some much-needed support to Michigan farmers.”
Crops affected by freezing temperatures in May, after many warm days, include cherries, peaches, wine grapes, apples, blueberries as well as row crops. In a related development, last Thursday President Trump approved a request by Whitmer earlier in June to have five counties in the state declared a disaster area due to flooding and the subsequent failure of dams in Midland. A presidential declaration of a disaster area is different from a request for a disaster declaration from the USDA.
Seventy-five to 80 percent of the cherry crop has been lost already due to the freezing temperatures that occurred, said Michael DeRuiter, a cherry grower and processor in Oceana County in southwest Michigan, near the shores of Lake Michigan. DeRuiter said cherry growers have been having all kinds of bad luck in recent years. The covid-19 epidemic has added another component of uncertainty to his business, because he wonders if he can rely on enough people to come to work to process cherries when the time is right; he doesn’t think there is a problem, but when it comes to this new disease, one can never be sure.
“Tart cherries haven’t made any money for four or five years,” he said. “We’ve been living off of crop insurance, to be honest and frankly it’s not supposed to be that way. We’re slowly losing the crop insurance tool. I’ve already had one grower drop below the insurability level. We kind of get ignored with all these assistance packages, because our industry is small. We just tend to get overlooked. Yes, if we could get some assistance, obviously that would help.”
Help from the USDA after a disaster declaration most often comes in the form of low interest loans, however, in some cases direct payments can be made. Mark Seamon is the research director at the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee as well as a soybean and sugarbeet grower in the Frankenmuth area in the state’s Thumb region; that is where the catastrophic flooding occurred this spring. Seamon also said that sugarbeets in the Thumb area were damaged by freezing weather.
“Flooding caused significant problems in those five counties to be sure,” Seamon said. “But if you have to pick a time to have problems with soybeans as well as some other crops, earlier in the year is better. What happens with the crop this year will mostly depend on what happens from here on out.”
Most growers have to borrow money for operating expenses, Seamon explained, so if you can get a lower interest loan “then of course that would be preferable.”