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Michigan specialty crop growers face tough challenges

Michigan specialty crop growers face tough challenges

By Andi Anderson

Specialty crop growers in Michigan are facing a "perfect storm" of challenges, forcing many to struggle to stay in business, and some to even leave the industry.

Theresa Sisung of the Michigan Farm Bureau highlights that apple, cherry, asparagus, and other specialty crop producers are dealing with dramatic rises in labor costs and difficulty finding enough workers, alongside growing competition from imports.

Over the past decade, labor costs have increased by nearly 60%, largely due to federally mandated hourly wage increases for H-2A visas for temporary agricultural workers.

Simultaneously, competition from crop imports has been rising, with foreign producers now shipping crops to the U.S. year-round.

This was not the case in the past, when imports typically filled gaps during off-seasons for domestic crops. Labor costs in many other countries are lower than in the U.S., allowing foreign producers to sell their products cheaper than Michigan growers can.

"They can bring those products in here many times cheaper than what we can grow them for here in our state," said Sisung.

Nate Chesher of the Cherry Marketing Institute agrees that labor costs are a significant part of the problem. "It's up to over $18 an hour right now, and that's a cost our growers have to absorb," he said.

Other costs like chemicals, gasoline, processor fees, and electricity have also increased, creating a challenging environment for growers.

Currently, there is advocacy for the federal government to hold wages steady for workers on H-2A visas, allowing farmers to plan financially for the next season's crops.

Sisung notes that while some growers are switching to easier-to-grow crops like corn and soybeans, others are selling their farms and leaving the business entirely.

"We should look at this as a long-term problem," said Sisung. "We need to decide if we want to continue growing these specialty crops and fruits and vegetables here in our country or if we want to import them."

These challenges pose significant threats to Michigan's specialty crop industry, highlighting the need for strategic solutions to support local growers and maintain domestic production.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-alexeyrumyantsev

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Categories: Michigan, General

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