Local farmers promote upcoming expo, new farming practices

Becky Vargo • Mar 21, 2018 at 1:30 PM

ALLENDALE — Tuesday was a national day of celebration for farmers.

Several local farmers — all members of the farm bureaus in Ottawa, Allegan and Kent counties — took advantage of National Agriculture Day to meet with local media to discuss issues and innovations.

Part of the event, which took place at the Main Street Pub in Allendale, was to promote the upcoming Farm to Food Expo. It is set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9, in front of The Shops at Westshore in Holland.

“The Ottawa County Farm Bureau wants to reach out to educate people about where their food comes from and about modern food production practices,” said Northeast Ottawa County fruit farmer Adam Dietrich. “As Breakfast on the Farm (held last year) invites people to venture to the farm, this event will take the farm to people.”

One of the advances in farming technology being explored is the use of robots in picking apples, according to another Northeast Ottawa County fruit farmer, Nick Schweitzer.

Increased labor and other costs over the years have forced the farmers to look closely at the technology and start planting different varieties of apples that can be placed closer together and not grow as high as traditional trees.

Schweitzer, a fifth-generation farmer, said they grow 19 varieties of apples and two varieties of pears on his 200-acre farm. Producing the right apples for use in hard cider is also a consideration these days, he said.

Dairy farmers Diane Loew and Nate Elzinga, both of the Zeeland area, discussed some of the issues facing their family-run farms. Loew, who writes a blog (at www.afarmwife.com), said inaccurate information about hormones in milk and alternatives to milk products have had a big impact on the dairy industry. Elzinga said tariffs imposed by Russia on food is also hitting hard in an industry just starting to recover from some slow years.

Michigan agriculture facts

— The food and agriculture industry contributes $101.2 billion annually to the state’s economy.

— MSU Extension representative Charles Gould, of Grand Haven, said there are 6 million acres of cropland in Michigan with the possible use of 5 million more acres of marginal land. 

— Ottawa and Allegan counties are the top two agriculture producers in the state, primarily because of higher value crops, Gould said.

— Michigan produces more than 300 commodities on a commercial basis, including tart cherries, blueberries, dry beans, floriculture products and cucumbers for pickles.

— Michigan’s top export markets are Canada, Japan, China, Thailand and Mexico.

— Michigan’s top agricultural exports include soybeans and soybean meal, dairy products, feed and feed grains, and fresh and processed vegetables.

— Every $1 in export activity generates another $2.93 in economic activity. This means Michigan’s total agriculture exports of $2.8 billion have a local impact of an additional $8.2 billion.

Source: Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

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