Is global warming affecting Michigan farms?

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 7:27 pm on Friday, March 23, 2012

Jim Byrum spoke on global warming and other ag-related topics to a mix of farmers, politicians and area business owners Thursday evening at Montcalm Community College. - Daily News/Mike Taylor

SIDNEY — It was an eclectic mix gathered Thursday evening at Montcalm Community College — politicians, local business owners and farmers.

But they all had one thing in common – a shared interest in the continued health of the state’s agriculture business.

And business is good, according to Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA).

Byrum was introduced to the gathering by Montcalm Land Use Coalition Chairman John Johansen (who is also a Montcalm County commissioner), who called Byrum “one of the most knowledgeable people around with regard to the ag business.”

According to Byrum, who addressed the gathering, 2011 was a banner year for Michigan farmers with nothing but good news predicted for the years ahead. Global warming, Byrum said, is at least partially responsible for increased yields unlike anything the state has ever seen. Technological advances in both machinery and the crops themselves also are part of the equation, but global warming is key.

“The temps the past couple weeks have been ranging from 60 to the mid-80s,” Byrum said. “We have farmers scratching the dirt wanting get out and play farm and start planting something.”

Byrum noted that corn yields have risen in Michigan from 81 bushels per acre in 1970 to 153 in 2011 despite a wet, late planting season last year. He predicts that trend will continue, increasing to 250 bushels per acre by 2025.

“This will mean an extra quarter billion bushels of corn,” Byrum said. “Will it actually get that high? I don’t know, but it’s definitely going to go up.”

The immediate future could be less bright for orchards, Byrum admitted. With the unseasonably warm temperatures so far this year, if frost comes late it could prove disastrous for apple growers.

That caveat aside, Byrum also predicts increased crop yields from parts of the state located farther north, those historically too cold to have much luck producing row crops like corn.

There are problems associated with this additional yield, however. So much corn is being produced in some areas that storage and transportation have already become serious speed bumps on the road to expansion. An inadequate infrastructure — in some rural areas farmers can’t get enough gas and electricity to power large processing equipment — also is hampering growth. Even things like a lack of reliable broadband Internet service, which can be used to control GPS-assisted farm equipment has farmer’s scratching their heads wondering when these services will catch up with their needs.

The resource in shortest supply, however, is people interested in the ag business.

“This is a great time to be in agriculture,” Byrum said. “We’re in awfully good shape right now. The only limiting factor is people. We have to stop encouraging our kids to leave the farm and go elsewhere. There’s a lot of money to be made these days down on the farm.”

Byrum also suggested that some of the labor shortage could be mitigated through use of foreign workers.

“We need the federal government to come up with a realistic immigration policy,” Byrum said. “I know that may not be a popular idea with some of you, but that’s the way it is. We’ve got to have the labor.”

The Michigan Agri-Business Association represents many segments of the agriculture business in the state.

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