Farm Viability and Development Report


June 1, 2011 - Author: Susan Cocciarelli, ,


We envision farming as an economically viable livelihood, which we define as farms where the farmer’s primary occupation is farming, the farm operator household earns at least the Michigan median household income, and farm workers are paid fairly. We envision strong local and regional agricultural markets in Michigan, integrated with our national and global agricultural markets. We envision strong support for new and beginning farmers in acquiring access to land, capital business training and agronomic training. We envision farmland protection policies that support the economic viability of farming as a livelihood and ensure that our prime agricultural lands are treated as a resource for generations to come. We envision a diversity of farmers and farm types, all supported by the food system and by public policies and regulations.

Current State of Affairs

We start from the premise, outlined in the Michigan Good Food Charter, that diversity in our agricultural system helps to measure the sustainability of our food supply. Diversity has numerous dimensions–scale, product, production strategy, market, farmer background and ownership strategy. Many parts of the agricultural economy are very healthy at the moment – for example, the high global prices of corn and soybeans have helped many field crops producers do quite well. This report does not attempt to focus on the full array of agricultural production and markets. Rather, it focuses on the opportunity to build a strong, demographically diverse and profitable farm sector growing traceable, differentiated food products for local and regional markets. We do not expect or advocate that all Michigan agriculture focuses on this opportunity, but we do believe that it is a good opportunity for many new and current farmers.

Michigan agriculture today is complex and dynamic, harboring both successes and challenges. The economic strength of agriculture, which as a sector has continued to grow in the midst of a widespread recession; the great diversity of cultivated crops; and the vast knowledge of production strategies across the state are reasons to be optimistic. On the other hand, the loss of farmland and a reliance on limited resources should be reasons for concern. Many farms contribute significantly to our state’s economy, but too many of our farmers are losing money or finding it necessary to support themselves through off-farm work. Though consumers are increasingly interested in food from Michigan, many farmers are approaching retirement without an obvious next generation of farmers coming behind them. Few young people are pursuing farming careers.

We see an opportunity to adopt specific strategies that build on Michigan’s agricultural strengths and address its challenges by looking to:

  • The breadth of Michigan agriculture.
  • The depth of our production knowledge among farmers and through our land-grant university research.
  • Consumer trends supporting local, sustainable and organic products.
  • The potential for linking agriculture to sustainable economic development, public health improvement and natural resource preservation.
  • The foundational components for viable farming, including land, loans, training and markets.
  • Opportunities to cultivate individuals from various backgrounds as new farmers – immigrants, those pursuing second careers and young people, from both within and outside farm families.

By paving the way for new farmers and strengthening the viability of current farmers, these strategies can ensure a more prosperous agricultural sector and a more robust Michigan food system, and can spur much-needed economic development across the state.

Download the full report to learn more.



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