Keeping it Real this Christmas

Keeping it Real this Christmas

Why not to feel guilty buying a live Christmas tree this holiday

Plus: Old and new trends in Michigan’s evergreen industry 

Michigan’s Christmas tree legacy starts with the Scotch Pine. Easy to grow on soils where other agricultural products struggled, this hardy pine has helped establish growers across the state.

From these small beginnings evolved a massive industry. According to USDA NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service), in 2013 Michigan Christmas trees sales were approximately 1.6 million, including 70,000 exports. Today, Michigan remains a leader in Christmas tree production on a large scale basis.


Under the umbrella of USDA, a new organization called the Christmas Tree Promotion Board is determined to keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in homes for the holidays. As part of the board’s efforts to further publicize the advantages of live versus fake trees, consumers will be seeing more of this catchy slogan: “It’s Christmas. Keep it Real.”

“It is very concerning that many people think an artificial tree is better for the environment. We were all taught to save trees, but the fallacy lies in that this is an agricultural product,” explains Marsha Gray, director of industry communications for the Christmas Tree Promotion Board and executive director, Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

“While the tree is growing it’s providing oxygen, clean air, wildlife habitat and helps stop soil erosion. Then when you’re done with it at the end of the season, it’s biodegradable. Trees can be recycled into mulch and even a few US cities are powered by waste wood, including Christmas trees.”

Fake trees, on the other hand, end up in landfills.

“By not buying a real tree, you’re not saving a tree. You’re putting a farmer out of business. These are family farms growing a product that is intended to be harvested and replanted.”


Jerry Peterson, past board member of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, has been selling choose-and-cut Christmas trees since 1988, even before opening Peterson’s Riverview Nursery in 1993. Fast forward to 2016 and the family operated business now grows 35,000 – 40,000 Christmas trees at one time on the farm, with close to 50 acres devoted to production.

With the average growing time of a Christmas tree taking seven years, not forgetting trimming and pruning each year, the commitment is not one taken lightly by growers. For Peterson, his continued enthusiasm is rooted deeply in customer satisfaction.

“The customers coming out to the farm to purchase trees are always in a good mood, which makes us feel happy knowing that our product is something that gives people so much enjoyment.”

Michigan is able to grow more different species of Christmas trees than any other state thanks to a moderate climate and well-drained soils, however the Peterson’s remain dedicated to Fraser Firs.

“Fraser Firs are one of the more challenging Christmas trees to grow, but they are in high demand and command a better price. Customers enjoy them for their excellent needle retention, dark green color, and pleasant fragrance.”

Taking great pride in supplying such high quality trees, the Peterson’s nursery has become a staple in the industry, serving the Midwest and beyond.


To ensure U.S. soldiers and their families enjoy a farm-fresh Christmas tree for the holidays, Michigan has proudly supported Trees for Troops since its inception in 2005. Each year Michigan’s Christmas tree growers have donated more than 1,000 trees to support the program, which has brightened Christmas for over 122,000 families at more than 65 military bases worldwide.

Peacock Road Tree Farm is just one of several offering customers the opportunity to also get involved and buy additional trees – making Trees for Troops one of Michigan’s new holiday traditions.


  • Eighty percent (80%) of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
  • The plastic material (PVC) that most artificial Christmas trees are made of, can be a potential source of hazardous lead.
  • Overloaded electrical outlets and faulty wires are the most common causes of holiday fires in residences – these are just as likely to affect artificial trees as real trees.
  • Fake trees were invented by a company who made toilet bowl brushes, the Addis Brush Company.


  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
  • There are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
  • There are about 350,000 acres in production for growing Christmas Trees in the U.S.; much of it preserving green space.
  • There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.
  • There are close to 350 million real Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas Tree farms in the U.S. alone, all planted by farmers.

*Sourced from

This is a sneak peak of the article to be published in Michigan Agriculture magazine | 2017


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Oregon Takes a Natural Approach

Oregon Takes a Natural Approach

Naturopathic companies serve a growing need

Oregon is a hotbed of naturopathic products and health supplements. A distinct, alternative approach to health, naturopathy focuses on a natural approach of healing the body, usually employing the use of botanical medicines, homeopathic products, a focus on natural foods and more.

Using plant-based medicine to nourish and heal bodies is simply a way of life for many health-conscious consumers. And as interest in these types of products has grown, so have Oregon-based companies that are producing them.


In 1994, Randy Buresh and his wife co-founded Oregon’s Wild Harvest (OWH), a grower and manufacturer of U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic herbal supplements. Today, this family-run company, which includes son Adam Buresh, is operating across multiple farms, taking advantage of Oregon’s varying climate to produce dozens of varieties of medicinal plants. “Our mission is to nurture healthy soil and clean water, save and replant our non-GMO seeds, and produce pure, potent and healthy herbal supplements,” Buresh says.

To accomplish this, OWH practices biodynamic methods or “regenerative farming,” leaving a smaller carbon footprint. OWH focuses on producing herb products and extracts, such as nettle, skullcap, holy basil and more, that are free of chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs.

“The health of our land is directly connected to the health of our plants, which are connected to the quality of our herbal products and health of our customers,” Buresh says. “Our hands-on, closed-loop approach gives us maximum control over the identity, quality, potency and safety of all our ingredients, every step of the way.”


Similarly at The Eclectic Institute, co-founded in 1982 by Dr. Ed Alstat, every step of the process from farm to bottle is handled in-house. The Eclectic Institute started freeze-drying herbs in the late 1980s. Then, in 1990, it began to use organic non- grain alcohol for consumers with gluten sensitivity.

“Different than other herb companies, our herbs need to be fresh for freeze drying so we try to grow as much as we can ourselves,” explains Christine Alstat, co-owner. “One of the advantages to this is the ability to grow unusual or genetically unique plants that are not generally available on the open market.”

For example, the farm yields four varieties of echinacea, which all hold different medicinal properties.

“Also, in contrast to some types of agricultural farms that practice mono-cropping, we leverage the benefits of biodiversity by growing a wide variety of plants that thrive in the climate of the Willamette Valley,” like native ornamental flower species and cover crops to attract pollinators.


Known as a “super fruit,” black raspberries grow in Oregon’s own backyard. With Oregon as the No. 1 producer in the U.S. of black raspberries, it’s no wonder that BerriHealth, based in Corvallis, carefully cultivates the crop, creating products and testing its benefits.

BerriHealth was founded in 2009 by Steve Dunfield with leading scientists in order to supply U.S. medical research with high-quality black raspberries at Ohio State University. Since then, many other national and international medical research institutes have used the company’s black raspberry products to advance medical research.

Oregon black raspberries are also being studied in the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea for the potential to help with cancer prevention and inhibition, as well as improving cardiovascular function.

The keystone to BerriHealth’s success is Sturm’s Berry Farm in Corbett, a fourth-generation family farm with 70 years of experience growing this fickle berry using ecological farming methods. From selecting cultivars to soil conditions, harvest timing and preserving, the entire berry process must be controlled to guarantee quality and consistency.

“Our unique location in Oregon and our partnership with a wonderful family farm gives us a unique advantage by providing us with the highest-quality black raspberries,” says Dunfield, president of BerriHealth. “We are excited about sharing our healthy berry products with the world.”

This article was published in Growing Oregon magazine | 2017 (PDF) >>

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Grown Locally, Praised Globally

Grown Locally, Praised Globally

Successful trade missions prove future export growth potential for North Dakota

With an innovative and resourceful spirit, North Dakota farmers are determined to feed the nation – and the world. Taking advantage of the state’s natural landscape and climate, producers have found success producing over 50 different agricultural commodities commercially, attracting interest from overseas markets.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), North Dakota’s ag exports (tracked sales, not bulk sales) totaled $4.5 billion in 2014 with dry beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, food-grade soybeans and flax making the largest sales. The state also ranks second nationwide in whole soybean exports.

Overall, the state ranks eighth in ag exports nationally but “No. 1 in U.S. production of wheat, dry edible beans, durum, barley, dry edible peas, canola, flaxseed and honey,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says.

Topping these accolades, however, is the fact that North Dakota has significantly expanded its export footprint over the years and shows no signs of slowing down.

“About 10 years ago, we were exporting to 63 countries. As of 2015, we’re exporting to 83 countries. Every market we pick up makes a difference, providing economic and food security. We don’t walk in to make a sale and leave. It’s a two-way street and there are ways we all benefit. We want to build and keep relationships.”


North Dakota’s reputation for high-quality food products is no secret.

“If someone in the world is looking at buying pulse crops from the U.S., there’s a high probability it’s coming from North Dakota,” confirms Dean Gorder, executive director, North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO). The same goes for niche commodities like canola and sunflower. “Or if you’re eating bean sprouts in Korea, chances are they originated in North Dakota.”

Korea is also a huge market for buckwheat where the hulls are used to make pillows. Meanwhile, local soybean exports are supporting the production of natto, a fermented soy dish from Japan, as well as soymilk and tofu across Asian markets. Ag machinery is headed to China, and cutting-edge technology like unmanned aerial vehicles and systems for precision agriculture is piquing interest in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

As the International Year of Pulses continues, Gorder has noticed rising demand for pinto, navy, black turtle, and cranberry beans in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Additionally, while countries like Egypt, Angola and Colombia have been traditionally high in pulse sales, the Philippines has recently reached out to NDTO to meet growing consumer demand.


Led by Goehring in February 2016, the state’s first trade mission to India was deemed a success by producers in attendance like SB&B Foods, a family-owned agribusiness exporting food grade crops for 27 years. Presently, SB&B’s largest volume of exports is food-grade soybeans shipping to 15 different countries.

The turnout of interested Indian manufacturers not only doubled expectations, but, “SB&B, along with other North Dakota soybean suppliers, will be shipping five containers of soybeans into India that can be distributed throughout the country as samples. This is the very first export of U.S. soybeans to India. It’s historic,” says Bob Sinner, president, owner and partner of SB&B Foods.

As of 2014, India was North Dakota’s eighth largest export market with exports valued at $35 million in 2014 – a 20 percent increase over 2013. With 1.3 billion people and the largest GDP growth in Asia, future trade agreements hold immeasurable potential for the agriculture industry.


After a trade mission to Cuba in late 2015, North Dakota is prepared to meet many of the country’s import needs, including wheat and dry beans.

“If they are going to do business in the U.S., they’re coming to North Dakota because we are the biggest producer of these products,” says Goehring. “The goal is not to replace food in their food system, but to enhance their food system with North Dakota products and technology.”

In the coming years, thanks to the state’s pro-trade, export-focused infrastructure, the agro-industry can count on exponential trade growth.

For Goehring, the plan is simple: “Ninety-six percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of buying power in the world exists outside U.S. borders.”

And where you find agricultural trade growth, that’s where you’ll find North Dakota.

This article was published in North Dakota Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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Field to Feed and Fuel

Field to Feed and Fuel

North Dakota crop, livestock agriculture support each other

Agriculture is full of cycles. From seed to harvest, wet to dry season, and even from boom to bust, farmers know well the give-and-take of agriculture. This pattern is especially found in crop and livestock products, which are dependent on one another for success. One such mutually beneficial relationship is that between corn, beef and ethanol.


Jeff and Vicki Enger have been corn producers in Marion since 1977 when they took over the family farm. Together with Enger’s brother, nephew, and son, the family partnership devotes 3,500 acres to corn annually and also finishes around 1,000 Holstein steers every year.

“We use corn from our own farm and dried distillers grains (DDGs) from the ethanol plant. About two years ago, an ethanol plant was built within 17 miles of our operations so the corn we do not feed (about 75 percent) is sold to the ethanol plant,” Jeff Enger says. Roughly 40 to 60 percent of corn grown statewide goes to one of five ethanol plants, creating a huge market locally for corn.

During ethanol production, a nutrient-rich byproduct called distillers grains is made. The North Dakota Corn Council has been funding research on this valuable feed for the cattle industry.

“Ten years ago, our state was growing 600,000 acres of corn. This year we are projected at 3 million, so we have really grown our industry within the state,” Enger says.

Looking toward the future of his three-generations- strong farm, Enger sees growth opportunities in feeding more livestock within the state.

“Recently, a beef processing plant was opened in Aberdeen, so maybe we will see more cattle finished in North Dakota because we have the corn available,” he says. “About 80 percent of our calves are shipped out, so this could be a game changer for both the corn and beef industries.”


Down on the Strommen Ranch in southern Morton County near Fort Rice, Aaron Strommen and his wife, Sheyna, and their three children, raise 180 registered Angus cattle. They also manage a herd of about 125 commercial cows, which are used as recipients in an embryo-transfer program.

“We differ from other beef producers in that 100 percent of our supplemental feed is purchased,” Aaron Strommen says. “We use corn as an energy source in our cattle’s diet. It’s purchased from local farmers and serves as an important part of our growing rations. We also use ethanol byproducts – modified distillers grains – as a protein supplement for our cow rations. It allows the cattle to better utilize poorer quality hay or straw, and ultimately helps us keep our supplemental feed costs low.”

Like the Strommens, many North Dakota cattlemen have embraced the idea of utilizing ethanol byproducts as a reliable source of feed.


According to the North Dakota Ethanol Council, each bushel of corn processed by North Dakota ethanol plants produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol, 18 pounds of livestock feed and 18 pounds of carbon dioxide. The majority of ethanol is exported to national and international markets.

“North Dakota only consumes around 40 million gallons of ethanol, but we produce about 450 million gallons annually,” says Jeff Zueger, general manager, Blue Flint Ethanol and Dakota Spirit AgEnergy. “The vast majority of ethanol produced in North Dakota is used as a motor fuel. When blended with gasoline, ethanol reduces emissions. Additionally we produce corn oil at our facilities, which can be used as an input to biodiesel production or as a high energy feed product for livestock.”

Thanks to North Dakota’s abundant corn supply, ethanol facilities can process a locally grown product, further giving the state an advantage in production – and so the cycle continues, providing a win-win for all industries involved.

This article was published in North Dakota magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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Down the River and Around the World

Down the River and Around the World

Canal expansion, Missouri River impact state’s ag exports

Whether beef, pork, poultry, specialty grains, pet foods or animal feeds, there is never a shortage of high-quality Missouri products available for import. When it comes to sending products across the globe, however, the thing that makes Missouri unique is its ability to use the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as a main artery for exports. Barge ports alone account for 30 million tons of Missouri commodities shipped annually.

When these powerhouse ports are combined with the state’s multi-faceted transportation systems in aviation, railroads and highways, the result is $4.35 billion worth of agriculture products exported by Missouri in 2014.


When AGRIServices of Brunswick LLC was choosing a location, access to all modes of transportation was key. This advantage has helped make AGRIServices the largest importer and exporter on the Missouri River.

“We have been importing fertilizer and exporting grain continuously since 1978,” says Lucy Fletcher, business development manager at AGRIServices. All the while, the business uses inland waterways as the backbone of their transportation system.

Barge transportation has benefits of being environmentally friendly, cost effective and safe.

“In a rural area such as ours, the economic impact of a healthy terminal impacts not only our community, but farmers within our market area,” Fletcher says.

Tom Waters, a seventh-generation farmer producing corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa on about 3,500 acres near Orrick, Mo. knows this first-hand as the majority of their land is located in the Missouri River bottoms. As a Chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association and a member of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, Waters says the river system still holds great room for expansion.

“I’m looking forward to watching this industry grow and our economy benefit from the hard work taking place today to lay the groundwork for future transportation on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers,” Waters says.

Another strategic route for ag exports is via highways and railroads, like the Norfolk Southern Railway.

“We utilize truck and rail, then transload to an ocean-going vessel,” says Adam Thomas, grain manager at SEMO Milling. Established in 2007 and exporting since 2009, SEMO Milling quickly gained a reputation both nationally and abroad for providing high-quality dry corn ingredients. Located in Scott City, the company has established successful export markets in the Caribbean, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Africa as part of USAID.


A Missouri trade delegation led by Governor Jay Nixon in March 2016 headed to Panama to help grow state exports and attract foreign investment. As one of Missouri’s key markets, Panama received more than $22.5 million in state goods and commodities in 2014.

With this historic expansion, the amount of cargo passing through the canal is expected to double while lowering transport costs by an estimated $14 per metric ton and boosting volumes by 30 percent between 2011 and 2020.

As a result, Thomas anticipates that “it will promote a lot more river traffic up and down the Mississippi River.” By making it easier to ship agricultural goods globally, it’s no understatement that this could be a game changer for exports.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the Panama Canal expansion will assist our nation’s competitive advantage for international grain exports,” says Fletcher.

Furthermore, Waters has already noticed “many ports are working to expand and improve their facilities and prepare for this increase in future business. There is momentum for growth in Missouri’s river transportation industry.”

It is evident that with its advantageous access to rivers and other forms of transportation, Missouri agriculture is poised to capitalize on future export growth opportunities.

This article was published in Missouri Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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Bringing the Farm Downtown

Bringing the Farm Downtown

Inaugural event shares the story of Missouri’s farmers with consumers

A first of its kind in Missouri – and in the agriculture industry nationwide – FarmScape
is proving to be the perfect opportunity to teach consumers about Missouri’s rich farming heritage.

Presented by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the inaugural event was held at Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis in September 2015.

“It is often incredibly challenging for farmers to find ways to communicate with consumers, but this event provides a great platform to begin conversations on where our food comes from,” Missouri Director of Agriculture Richard Fordyce says about the free event.

Through this engaging and interactive experience, visitors encountered tractors and farming equipment, a farmers market, petting zoo, as well as plentiful displays of local fruits, vegetables and live crops showcasing the best of Missouri agriculture.

Other FarmScape highlights included showing the My Farm, My Story video series, Ballpark Village restaurants featuring locally grown products, sampling wine at the Missouri Wine 101 classes, youth activities like face painting and calf roping, a concert, and the Osborn Barr livestock barn.


“The closest most people get to farm animals is the meat case in their local grocery store,” says Neil Caskey, marketing executive and communications strategist for Osborn Barr.

Determined to provide a genuine farm experience to urban residents, Osborn Barr hosted a livestock barn that featured pigs, sheep, goats, horses, chickens and cows. “Visitors heard from the people who are responsible for the animals and learned how they care for them each and every day,” Caskey says.

In fact, attendees have found that one of the best parts of FarmScape is the opportunity to have real, face-to-face dialogue with local farmers and get answers to their questions regarding agricultural practices, such as the differences between GMO (genetically modified organisms) and non-GMO foods.

“Demystifying farming is a long process, but I guarantee all who attended FarmScape know at least one more thing about animal agriculture than they did before that day. I think it’s awesome that the MDA is helping to provide that bridge between producers and consumers of food,” Caskey says.

As more consumers seek healthy, homegrown local produce, ag events like FarmScape are proving critical to maintaining open lines of communication on both sides.

“For food producers, it starts with a clear understanding of what their customers expect from them,” Caskey says. “And for consumers, it includes a better appreciation of how that food is delivered.”

It is Missouri’s farm families who continually demonstrate the commitment and passion necessary to produce agriculture’s finest for the world.


FarmScape returns to St. Louis Ballpark Village on Sept. 17, 2016, delivering a wide variety of interactive educational ag experiences that are fun for the entire family. This second annual “escape to the farm” adventure is free and open to all ages.

“Corn, soybeans, pigs, cattle and Cardinals baseball together are a perfect marriage of some of our favorite things. We’re definitely in again this year,” Caskey says.

Missouri’s FarmScape success has grabbed the attention of other agricultural organizations across the nation. It’s an event not to be missed.

“Our friends and colleagues in agriculture in other states have contacted the department to learn more about this successful consumer outreach event and how they can develop similar initiatives,” Fordyce says.

For more information, visit

This article was published in Missouri Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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The Taste of Success

The Taste of Success

Food innovation and entrepreneurship drive thriving food industry in Minnesota

With something for every taste bud, Minnesota is a happening place for food. Leading companies like Cargill, Hormel and General Mills are just a few of the big players making the food industry the state’s second largest manufacturing sector. Not only that, Minnesota has an exciting restaurant scene with chefs including Gavin Kaysen, owner of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, and is home to food celebrities like Andrew Zimmern.

Because of this influence and leadership, both small businesses and startups such as Annie B’s Popcorn and Caramels, and Smude’s Sunflower Oil have found Minnesota to be the perfect place to grow their businesses.

Here are their recipes for success:


Looking to Mother Nature to find a more drought-tolerant crop, one farm family in Pierz started growing sunflowers. Soon after, Smude’s Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Sunflower Oil hit shelves in 2010. Today, Smude’s product line is sold online and can be found at multiple grocery stores and chains, local farmers markets, and restaurants.

And they keep expanding – the sunflower oil is currently available for purchase at Super Target throughout Minnesota and through

“They actually sought us out,” owner Tom Smude says. “The hardest part is effective marketing, but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has been helping us, including participating in some bigger trade shows out in Chicago and New York.”

Although high-oleic sunflower oil is recognized by cooks internationally, U.S. consumers are just starting to move away from traditional butter and canola oil, opting instead for this heart- healthy, vitamin E-rich substitute.

Despite the challenges, Smude is creatively pursuing new markets, whether that means selling into other industries like cosmetics or teaming up with local small businesses. After all, when it comes to food, Minnesota is a melting pot of opportunities.


In January 2013, food enthusiasts Justin and Amanda Henke became the new owners of Annie B’s, a family-owned company of 35 years. Since then, the couple has continued the candy legacy by expanding its product offerings and growing retail distribution. The company has also received impressive accolades along the way, including being named “Oprah’s favorite gift” of 2014 and nominated for Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards in 2015.

The Henkes attest: “It’s fun and rewarding to be surrounded by a nurturing, enthusiastic food community. We thrive off energy from our talented industry peers, from movers and shakers like Way Better Snacks to giants such as General Mills.”

The couple purchased B.T. McElrath Chocolatier in 2015, and a line of tasty new products is already in the works. As for advice for fellow aspiring food entrepreneurs, the Henkes stress the importance of making connections with people, which they say has helped them beyond measure.

With Annie B’s seeking to increase its retail store presence nationwide and in Canada, one must-have point of contact is the MDA. From attending trade shows at a fraction of the cost to sampling programs at retail stores and export assistance, the MDA is an asset
for small businesses. For Annie B’s, attending trade shows, such as the Fancy Food Show, has been key.

“Because of these trade shows, we’ve averaged an additional $10,000 of revenue per month,” says Tore Swenson, vice president of sales at Annie B’s. Swenson expects revenue to grow as the business continues to participate.

Crediting the help of Brian Erickson at the MDA Ag Marketing and Development Division, Swenson says, “One thing I like about working with the MDA is that they have one person working directly with you. Brian always responds quickly and helps out whenever we need.”

This article was published in Minnesota Made magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>


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Food of the Future

Ag Exporter of the Year illustrates state’s promising dry bean industry

With the International Year of Pulses declared for 2016, the talk about beans has become more than a dinner table affair. While all this attention has dry bean industries around the globe looking to raise the bar, high-quality beans are simply the standard in Michigan.

“I attribute that to our second-, third- and fourth-generation growers, our climate, and our astute processors,” says Joe Cramer, executive director of the Michigan Bean Commission. “I think we’re also logistically well positioned to take care of our customers. Presently, our biggest export partner is Mexico and because of our strong, long-term relationships there, black beans have risen to the No. 1 bean.”

Additional key markets include the United Kingdom for navy beans, Italy for navy beans and cranberry beans, and small red (chili) beans to the Caribbean. Not to mention pinto beans are the No. 1 bean consumed across the U.S., making the state’s dry bean exports an important contributor to economic growth.

“We export 35 to 40 percent of what we produce annually, so without export markets, we’d be floating in beans,” Cramer says.

Though export growth for the packaged and canned bean markets has matured, the future remains bright as innovative uses for bean protein hit grocery shelves.

Used as a compliment to traditional flour, bean protein increases nutritional value and is poised to change the look of energy bars, breakfast cereal, chips and even ice cream.

“If you look at the challenge of producing enough protein to feed the world, beans are perfect,” Cramer says. “They’re healthy, very nutrient dense and sustainable. They’re the food of the future.”


Feeding the world one bean at a time, Star of the West Milling Co. started exporting in the early 1970s. Today, Star of the West sells edible soybeans, dry edible bean products and flour across four continents, reaching Canada, Guatemala, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico and South Korea, and most recently expanding to Columbia, El Salvador, Italy, Poland, South Africa and Spain.

With a mission to meet and exceed the expectations of customers, the company experienced 27 percent growth in export sales from 2013 through 2014. Star of the West won the Ag Exporter of the Year award in 2015 for its achievements.

“Because of the increase in exports, it’s created an additional three full-time positions,” says Robert Chandonnet, vice president of edible bean sales at Star of the West and marketing director at Bayside Best Beans.

Job growth created from increased exports is just one criteria reviewed for award consideration. Additionally, export growth, economic impact for the state’s agriculture industry and the company’s “export culture” – whether exports are part of company philosophy and structure – are important.

“With our previous winners, we’ve had a lot of diversity,” says Jamie Zmitko-Somers, manager of MDARD’s International Marketing Program, which assists food and agricultural companies with a suite of services including export assistance. “It’s one of the great stories of the award and the agricultural industry as a whole in Michigan – a variety of products that showcase all Michigan offers to the world.”

For Star of the West, the award solidifies the company’s commitment to export excellence through effective strategies from establishing long-term relationships to studying market trends and analyzing global production.

“This honor would not be possible without the support of MDARD,” Chandonnet says. “We appreciate the strong relationship and trust we’ve established with MDARD over the years.”

Looking toward the future, Star of the West plans to continue its outreach to new trading partners. One prospect on the radar is Cuba, which prompted Chandonnet to visit the country in the spring of 2015 to investigate market opportunities in the agriculture sector and make sure local farmers would be well represented.

It’s clear that, like all of Michigan’s dry bean industry, Star of the West is destined for great heights.

This article was published in Michigan Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF)>>

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Farming Responsibly

Farmers’ conservation practices protect Michigan’s resources

The true value of clean freshwater is crystal clear, and Michigan farmers and producers are taking huge strides in protecting, and even healing, this precious resource.

Located in Monroe County, along the Stony Creek and River Raisin watershed in the Western Lake Erie Basin, the six-generations strong Darling Farms operation holds conservation at its roots. The farm, like many others in the state, is engaged in conservation practices protecting water, including Lake Erie, and other natural resources.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the farm and it’s good for the community,” says Doug Darling, who is a partner at the farm with his father.


Darling Farms is verified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), which is a voluntary, innovative and proactive program helping farms of all sizes prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.

The program, offered through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is one of the most proactive ways for the state’s farmers to make such efforts, MAEAP Manager Joe Kelpinski says.

“We know a farm that is MAEAP-verified is using the best management practices currently available in agriculture to protect the environment,” he says.

This includes help with identifying soil erosion, creating sensitive area maps and using tools that reduce runoff. As no two farms are identical, MAEAP enables farmers to choose the conservation methods that work best for their operations.

The program uses four verification systems: farmstead, cropping, livestock, and the newly added forest, wetlands and habitats.

“We’ve seen a substantial number of farmers getting involved. They understand the value and need for it,” Kelpinski says.


Darling Farms is verified in two of MAEAP’s verification systems, farmstead and cropping, which means the farm has implemented environmentally sound practices. The systems help the Darlings work to protect groundwater and surface water and prevent water resource contamination, among other efforts.

The farm uses filter strips, which are planted between a farm and surface water, such as lakes and rivers, to provide a buffer and protect water and soil quality.

“We have 46 acres of filter strips throughout our operation,” says Darling, who has found that “filter strips are probably the easiest way to impact runoff.”

The strips trap and filter runoff, preventing possible pollutants, such as sediment, from reaching the surface water. Filter strips are both practical and environmentally friendly.

“This is probably the easiest way to make an impact, especially if the land has any topography issues,” Darling says. “If you’ve installed the filter strips properly, you don’t have to do much to keep them maintained. It requires the least amount of management for how much impact it has.”

Though more costly, tile gates and other water flow management devices can also be strategically positioned to prevent loss of soil nutrients.

For over 20 years, Darling Farms has predominately followed a no-till policy and plants cover crops to help instill nutrients, add organic matter and prevent soil erosion.

Additionally, regular soil testing and proper nutrient management reduces excess phosphorous runoff while making farming more profitable. MAEAP-verified operations perform soil testing at a minimum of every three years, Darling says.

The farm also helps safeguard the environment by mainly using liquid fertilizer, not using fertilizer spreaders and also by side-dressing crops.

Darling Farms has not only pursued MAEAP verification, but also the Conservation Security Program and Conservation Reserve Program, which is administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.


Kelpinski says more than 3,000 farms are verified through MAEAP as of November 2015. Additionally, at least 10,000 Michigan farms have started the verification process.

Farmers understand the need to improve, protect and heal water resources like Lake Erie , which has suffered from algal infestation, and its surrounding watersheds.

Local farmers and research communities are focused on being part of the solution and have already made significant strides through proven conservation practices.

U.S. Geological Survey data released in September 2015 indicated algal bloom-fueling phosphorus dropped 49 percent in the River Raisin since 2008, which in turn reduces the amount flowing into the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Kelpinski believes that the “lake will heal itself” as more farms like Darling Farms implement these best management practices.

“I’m very positive about that,” he says.

This article was published in Michigan Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF) >>

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Poultry Pride

Technology advancements keep industry on the cutting edge

With 19 poultry processing plants producing 21 million chickens per week, Alabama ranks second in total production in the U.S., and according to a recent study by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the state’s poultry industry has a $15.1 billion impact on the state’s economy – making up 65 percent of agricultural sales and employing 86,000 workers.

Ray Hilburn, associate director at the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, says the state’s poultry industry continues to expand due to the increased demand for chicken and poultry products.

“Chicken and chicken products can be economically obtained and be of nutritional value for all three meals of the day,” Hilburn says. “The success of the poultry industry can be attributed to the advancement of genetics, technology, and the dedication of its employees and producers. The industry continues to be an asset to the lending agencies that are involved in the financial aspect of the industry and producer investments.”

Guy Hall, poultry division director at Alabama Farmers Federation, says Alabama’s poultry success is thanks to technological advancements that keep the industry one step ahead.

“Alabama’s poultry industry is successful because everyone works together for the betterment of the industry and understands the importance of it to the state’s economy,” he says. “Farmers are willing to invest in poultry housing, land and equipment to take care of their chickens. Poultry companies are willing to invest in infrastructure, such as processing hatcheries and feed mills.”

Keystone Foods, a global food services company with its USA Proteins headquarters in Huntsville, illustrates such commitment with a strong history of innovation from food cryogenics to the introduction of the chicken nugget. By using real-time data, Keystone has stayed competitive by delivering high-quality protein solutions locally, nationally and abroad.

Alabama also has forward-thinking universities and state agencies providing education to farmers on everything from environmental stewardship to bird health.

Ken Macklin, Auburn University Extension specialist and professor, has seen a reduction in bacterial and parasitic infections thanks to improved ventilation within poultry houses. Specifically, attic vents help keep litter dry. And as a result, respiratory-type diseases have also decreased.

“From the farmers’ standpoint, technology improves their bottom line because you get a more uniform bird that grows faster under less environmental stress,” he says. “Birds are happy and can grow without expending extra energy.”

Further, research on optimizing nutrition and preventing disease is revolutionizing the industry. Growing in popularity, antibiotic- free programs, which rely on non-antibiotic therapeutics like probiotics, encourage birds to fight off sub-clinical infections and improve their immune systems.


Seasoned poultry farmers can attest to the sweeping improvements in poultry houses, especially compared to two decades ago when growers practically lived in the houses.

Today, advanced computerized systems control the entire environment of the house, from automated feed and water to temperature, ensuring optimal comfort. Another important safeguard is the computer’s ability to notify farmers by phone if the temperature, water or power levels fall outside operating parameters.

Additionally, there have been significant improvements in brooders – heaters – which now use infrared heating to warm the ground instead of the air. This switch also impacts output costs, like natural gas and propane.

As for lighting, incandescent bulbs are no longer the norm, says Heath Wesley, Alabama Extension agent and second-generation poultry farmer.

“My poultry houses have LED light bulbs and light dimmers to help with energy efficiency,” he says.

Wesley installed high-tech poultry houses with all of the mentioned innovations. He also uses data management tools that compare past activities, reducing guesswork for any adjustments. Raising almost 1 million birds annually, Wesley finds the technology helps optimize weight gains, feed conversion and livability, thus improving performance.

Hall says, “It’s critical to have Alabama farmers willing to use these new technologies on their farms. That’s what makes them competitive and efficient at producing a high-quality, healthy protein source for consumers.”

Overall, it’s an industry that gives Alabama something to crow about.

This article was published in Alabama Agriculture magazine | 2016 (PDF)>>

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