When it comes to agriculture, Michigan is the second-most diverse state in America, producing more than 300 different food commodities that are exported domestically and abroad. Countries like Canada, Mexico, Japan, China and Thailand chomp at the bit for our corn and soybeans, as well as specialty crops such as mint and squash. We don’t blame them; with 10 million acres of farmland and nearly one-quarter of the state’s workforce a part of the industry, Michigan has all the tools it needs to feed the world a variety of fresh and flavorful produce.
For these reasons, in 2014, Governor Snyder declared March “Michigan Food and Agriculture Month.” Since then, the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development has partnered with Michigan businesses and schools to bring attention to all the bounties the industry has to offer the world.
Michigan’s network of family farmers, wholesalers, processors and retailers contribute $101.2 billion to the state’s economy annually by way of innovative partnerships and environmental stewardship. Feast your eyes on a few ways our state is working to make its agriculture even more robust:
- Crops that practice self-defense: For plants, there is a trade-off between growing as much as possible to get more natural light than their neighbors, and using that energy instead for defending against pests and disease. Last August, scientists at Michigan State University had a breakthrough in genetically engineering plants to grow quickly and adequately protect themselves without compromising either. They are now working to replicate the success in crop plants, with the goal of increasing crop yields exponentially worldwide. With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, that will be a lot of mouths to feed.
- A new kind of fertilizer: The University of Michigan is working fervently to explore attitudes toward their latest fertilizer development—urine. The potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen it contains are the essential ingredients that plants need to grow, but treatment plants currently don’t remove them from wastewater as it’s processed. Converting this liquid gold not only closes the loop in recycling the nutrients we eat back to agriculture, but cuts down on water pollution too. As researchers learn to produce safe fertilizer from urine at the macro scale, they will turn to educating audiences on its effectiveness to make it more socially acceptable.
- Expanding crops to meet growing demand: Although 80% of soy products come from the Midwest, there have been no major moves to grow edamame. Trendy as ever, more than 100,000 tons were imported to the U.S. in 2010. Research centers here and in Ohio are looking for ways to effectively use herbicides and carefully monitor crop growth, as edamame is far more sensitive to the elements compared to its other bean cousins. Farmers are also putting more resources into expanding hops fields and organic farms to meet customer demand for craft beers and niche foods.
For information on what food crops are grown where in Michigan, give Michigan State’s Agricultural Digest a read.