10 Little Known Facts About Michigan Agriculture

10 Little Known Facts About Michigan Agriculture

As you’re enjoying backyard barbecues this summer, do you consider where the cherries in your cherry pie were grown? Or perhaps where the beef in your burger came from? It’s likely that a large portion of the food stacked on your plate was grown or raised in the great mitten state.

Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, mostly thanks to the variety of microclimates our state can sustain.

A microclimate is the environment that a crop flourishes in. The Great Lakes that surround Michigan not only give us cool summer breezes and our sand dunes, but they provide the perfect conditions and sandy soils for asparagus and blueberries to grow. Heavier soils in southern Michigan are great for wheat and corn, and muck-strips in Imlay City are the perfect home to onions and celery.

Picture of tart cherry trees taken in Oceana County.
Photo by Mary Harris

As summer approaches let’s take this chance to appreciate the fresh foods grown in our state. Here are 10 more little known facts about Michigan agriculture:

1. Michigan is the #1 producer in the nation of the following crops:

  • Dry Black and Cranberry Beans
  • Blueberries
  • Tart Cherries (dried cherries, cherry pie filling, etc.)
  • Pickling Cucumbers
  • Squash

2. Michigan is the second largest asparagus producing state, producing 8,000 lbs of asparagus in Oceana County. Two-thirds of the asparagus in Michigan is grown in Oceana county, and the remaining ⅓ is grown in the Benton Harbor area. Michigan produces about 15-16,000 lbs of asparagus per year, second only to California.

3. We are the second largest producer of dairy products. Livestock, including dairy, has an impact of $4.73 billion on our state’s economy. One of the top dairy products we contribute is low fat ice cream mix (didn’t expect that, did you?).

4. Michigan is the second largest grower of Christmas trees. Michigan’s Christmas tree industry is around $60 million per year. As of 2008, it was estimated that there were about 780 separate growers in the Mitten state, claiming a total acreage of 42,000.

5. Michigan is the leading producer of potatoes in the nation. There are many seed potato farms in the UP. Lays has contracts with many potato growers in Michigan to make their potato chips. Most of the potatoes grown in Michigan are grown in Montcalm County or in the UP.

6. 95% of Michigan farms are single-family operated and/or family partnerships. However, 99% of these farms involve multiple family members and generations. Compared to 50 years ago, there are more larger family-owned farms rather than smaller family-owned farms.

7. Michigan’s lakes act as a double-edged sword. Because of our lakes, we have a more humid climate, which makes our plants more susceptible to getting diseases. In turn, these crops are more difficult to grow organically. This creates additional “disease pressure” for farmers, who have to spend more on chemicals to cure the plants.

8. Michigan has one of the longest seasons of fresh local produce available in the country. From April-November Michigan has some sort of fresh produce available currently being grown or harvested.

9. 22% of Michigan’s workforce is employed by the agriculture industry. That’s approximately 923,000 Michiganders!

10. Michigan has nearly 10 million acres of farmland. 80% of Michigan’s farmland is in the lower half of the Lower Peninsula, where the soil and climate are favorable. Most of Michigan’s fruit production takes place in the counties bordering Lake Michigan, while many of the central and southern counties of the Lower Peninsula grow heartier crops like corn, soy and beans.

Despite our flourishing agricultural economy, the Michigan ag community experiences its own struggles that often go unnoticed to the consumer.

A budding asparagus plant in Oceana County. Photo by Mary Harris
A budding asparagus plant in Oceana County. Photo by Mary Harris

One of the biggest difficulties farmers experience is keeping up with the demand for fresh vs processed foods. For example, 20 years ago there was a demand for 90% processed and 10% fresh foods in the asparagus market. Now it has reversed, with a 40% demand of fresh asparagus vs 60% demand for processed. Fresh foods are shipped directly to sellers like Meijer or Walmart, whereas processed foods can be canned, frozen or pickled.

The quality standards for fresh market foods are much higher than processed standards, meaning farmers and sellers have to throw away a lot of the food they grow because it does not fit these standards, even though it is suitable for consumption.

Another societal change that has affected farmers is the cultural shift to consuming organic foods. Organic foods are more expensive for the consumer and for the farmer. Farmers can charge more for organic foods because they have to charge more to pay people to weed their fields, since organic foods cannot be sprayed with chemicals.

The next time you are chowing down on a delicious ear of corn, I challenge you to consider the work that went into bringing this food to your plate.

What kinds of questions do you have about Michigan agriculture? Let us know in the comments!

  • Donna Bardocz

    I thought Michigan ranked second in Apple production, but it was not even listed or talked about?

  • Potatoes, yes!

  • Barb Schmidt

    Several years ago I read an article which claimed that one could find every necessary nutrient in a fully Michigan-grown diet. I wish I could find that information again. Do you have any sources for that? The Mitten’s agricultural diversity is truly awesome.