State of UP Ag: Special challenges face farmers

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Livestock related agriculture is a staple of UP farming, with a large percentage including cattle, dairy and related hay and forage.

With a short growing season and remote location Upper Peninsula farmers have unique challenges compared to those experienced by farmers in fair-weathered states.

The commercial farming industry could be worth $50-75 million a year, according to a rough estimate by Jason Isleib, a crop production educator at the Michigan State University Extension office in Escanaba.

The Upper Peninsula is a natural resource-based region, Isleib explained.

“Agriculture is a pretty small sliver of the total economy. It’s an important part, but it’s a small part,” he said.

Given the growing season, the agriculture is mainly livestock, cattle in particular, dairy, hay and forage.

The hay and forage plays heavily into the livestock industry as well, Isleib explained. Many farmers breed cattle and sell them out of the region once they have been weaned.

Other important crops include potatoes and a few major dry bean growers.

“We have a significant long-time potato industry in the Upper Peninsula, about half of which are seed growers. They grow certified seed to sell to other growers all around the state and region,” Isleib said.

Upper Peninsula farmers are a tough bunch, he said, faced with unique challenges and benefits to working in the region.

“We have such a short growing season we cannot grow a lot of the commodity crops that are real straightforward and easy to market,” Isleib said, mentioning corn, grain and soybeans as examples.

The soil quality is not the best either, requiring extra effort to improve. The distance to large markets can be an issue when transportation is considered.

However it’s not all bad news for U.P. commercial farmers. Lower land costs can be very attractive for producing in the region, Isleib explained. The U.P. lifestyle of a more natural and relaxed environment is a primary attribute.

TOMORROW: While agricultural production in the U.P. is holding steady, the number of family farms is decreasing.