Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, only behind California, with more than 300 agricultural products being grown on over 50,000 farms. Michigan’s $100 billion food and agriculture industry — encompassing farms, food processors and related industries — employs 22% of the workforce.
Michigan ranks first for specialty crops such as asparagus, tart cherries, cucumbers for pickling, chestnuts, winter squash and turnips — followed by second in the country for celery, fresh market cucumbers, dry beans and squash. Between April and November, fresh produce is readily available.
“Asparagus is the first field crop harvested each year in Michigan, averaging around 20 million pounds on approximately 9,500 acres,” said Jamie Adams of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.
While fresh foods were once considered a luxury item, accessibility to the resources Michigan’s land provides is improving. However, given the volumes of farm-grown products moved from farm to table, challenges are inevitable. Namely, the “continued substantial uncertainties regarding the supply chain, including workers within the supply chain, qualified truck drivers and the ability of companies on all points of the chain to get the job done,” according to Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
Reflective of this fact is that since asparagus is a hand-harvested crop that requires picking once or twice per day, labor is crucial to getting asparagus to local communities; however, Adams said that is a huge issue for producers.
“Each year, it is harder and harder to find reliable labor at an affordable price,” she said. “For the most part, growers are unable to find local labor willing to pick asparagus.”
Mears resident Dwight Fuehring, owner of Fuehring Farms and chairman of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, agreed.
“The biggest challenge on my farm and many others is the price of everything, including labor,” he said.
To continue supplying grocers, schools and institutions with fresh foods such as asparagus, every link in the supply chain must be solid, right down to the farmers who plant the seeds. However, Adams said the job gets done, or the crops get mowed down. The average life expectancy of an asparagus stand is 13 years.
“So, if the asparagus can’t get harvested, farmers mow it down to ensure the stand remains viable for future years,” Adams said.
Regardless, Fuehring said Michigan remains ideal for farmers due to their “ability to grow a more diversified crop mix than the rest of the country given our lakes and climate.”