« Agriculture

Karl's Column - What I'm Hearing

by Carolyn Binder

What I’m hearing these days is potentially good news for Michigan Agriculture - - specifically Michigan growers of specialty crops - - fruits and vegetables.  We’re not talking here of price supports for produce at the farm gate, or anything like that.  We’re just talking here on what we’re hearing about the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it’s taking a package of flawed food safety rules off the table for a reorganization.  You may recall hearing a year ago - - January this year, in fact, of the release of these new rules intended to increase and further assure produce food safety, including preventative controls.

At issue then, and I hear it’s pretty much the same now, were/are water quality standards and testing procedures, regulations on the use of manure and compost, provisions associated with

 mixed-use facilities, and the monitoring of water withdrawals.

The specifics of those proposed new rules must have sounded to specialty crop producers like something out of a nightmare.  In fact, we are told the Food and Drug Administration got such an earful from the comment period following release of the new rules, that the whole package was retrieved and is being revised.  Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine says that, “Based on what we’ve heard, we have learned a great deal and our thinking has evolved.”  Well - - we’ll see.  The new rules are due out in early summer.

Something else that I’ve heard I expect is fully as distressing to field crop producers as this other thing has been to the specialty crop folks.  Here we’re looking the Environmental Protection Agency and it’s apparent determination to scale back the nation’s renewable fuels requirements.  Now here’s something you can slice any number of different ways, but any slice or combination of them appears to be leading toward financial disaster for unwary farmers.  Due mostly to the demand for increasing ethanol production, we heard about corn, for many years worth around $2.25 to $2.50 a bushel soaring to as much as twice that.  Corn growers, in Michigan and most other areas expanded their operations.  Corn became worth $5.00 a bushel - - maybe more.  That, in turn, made farm land more valuable.  Here in Michigan, farmland normally at two thousand to 25-hundred dollars an acre, is now, so I hear, in some cases twice that.

Some really cautious growers are already scaling back - - at least on their planting intentions and other plans.  The number I heard?!  We’re looking at $3.00 corn.  And it’s happened before, that grower says, telling us, that five times in the last hundred years, corn prices have skyrocketed for one reason or another, and then, after two years, fallen back.

What’s next?  My experience tells me the real story will be told in the Spring.  When planting intentions become planting reality.