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Karl Guenther Column: Eyes on West Michigan for Agriculture labor

A farm is seen in the distance behind corn fields in Redkey, Indiana June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith
A farm is seen in the distance behind corn fields in Redkey, Indiana June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith

It’s a rather nice view this time of year - - this year, anyway, although it’s not always that way for our fruit and vegetable producers.  I’ve heard (and experienced) a couple of different developments.  My apple trees ( I have a dozen) are producing better than ever before, although I’ve always been short of bee activity for pollination.  I didn’t notice bees this spring, but they must have been there, because I have apples.  My tomatoes, on the other hand, which usually produce without much help beyond watering and staking, this year went nowhere.  Maybe it’s a matter of input - - disease and insect control, cultivation and irrigation, etc.

Anyway, the big national picture, what I’ve been able to see of it, looks very good for corn, pretty good for soybeans, and both Spring and Winter wheat in Michigan .have shown well, at least compared with a year ago.  A lot of researchers and cooperators working with wheat have been devoting a great deal of time and energy, as well as money in the effort to develop a soft wheat variety, or series of varieties  substantially more resistant particularly to disease than had been the case up to just a few years ago.  Some previously enthusiastic wheat producers finally gave up, and said, “to heck with it”, or words to that effect.  It’s good to hear that last year and this harvest season things have looked considerably improved.

Michigan Farm Bureau has sent investigators into the fields, vineyards, and orchards to sample the situation there, and the main concern seems to be LABOR!  No surprise there, as fruits and vegetable mechanical harvest is very, very limited.  The hardest working farmer, with help from spouse and all the children cannot possibly make a dent in a normal commercial harvest. Hired, part-time labor is a must.  Two of the most critical elements of successful farming in this particular area are a bountiful crop and a timely harvest.

Labor has been showing up, but it’s slow to develop, even to the point of being a little late.  In Berrien County, Fred Leitz says the trickle of labor into his fields and orchards has been bolstered by completion of seed corn de-tasseling, and the fact that blueberry growers are turning more and more to mechanical harvesting.

At South Haven in Allegan County, Allan Overhiser, who grows a great variety of crops, hopes for at least 25 workers for apple harvest; at the time of this report, he had 15.

And a reminder here.  Tractors, combines and wagons towed by trucks roll awfully slowly on any roadway.  Those machines have a right to use that roadway, and operators will do the best they can, to get out of your way as quickly as possible. But, the fact is, if you’re driving 55 miles an hour, in five seconds you’ll close the gap between you and 15-mile-an-hour farm machinery just a football field ahead of you..

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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