“I wanted to hear first-hand from all across the district — where we’re so reliant on ag — that whether it’s beans or corn, livestock, fruits and vegetables, everything is weeks late,” said Upton, who represents Michigan’s 6th Congressional District. “And now I’m hearing you really have to worry about the back end. Is it going to rain in September? How are going to dry the corn? What happens if you get a freeze on late-growing crops?
“I mean, it is a nightmare.”
Upton’s first stop was Russell Costanza Farms in Sodus near Berrien County. Costanza grows specialty crops, including cucumbers and tomatoes. Though close to two weeks behind in the growing progress due to a wet, cool spring, it’s unfair trade practices by Mexico that had Costanza and neighbor Fred Lietz of Lietz Farms happy to have the ear of Upton.
“The real issue with Mexican tomatoes, and really, all Mexican vegetables, is their cost of labor is less than $10 a day, and ours is around $16 an hour with all the benefits put in,” Lietz said. “Along with that, they’re dumping their products in our markets during our seasons. There used to be a suspension agreement that guaranteed a profit to Mexican growers, and it was below our cost of production. They circumvented all that by sending product into the U.S., getting some rejected at the border and then charging buyers less than the suspension agreement. That’s what we’re mad about – their low labor costs and their ability to get around the agreement in place with the Department of Commerce.”
According to Leitz, the Commerce Department has been negotiating with both U.S. and Mexican growers. He said Mexican growers don’t like some of the covenants in the agreement.
“What we’re putting into the agreement are things so the Mexicans can’t circumvent it,” Leitz said. “We want every load inspected at the border, so when it comes here we know it’s a good product and it can’t be rejected, sent to a secondary market, where it can be bought for half of what it should have been.”
Stop No. 2 on the day was Hood Dairy Farms in Van Buren County.
Owner Tim Hood led the discussion, and much of it centered around why farmers are still waiting on approval of a USDA Disaster Designation and whether USDA’s planted acreage report of June 28 was accurate — as many Michigan farmers seem to think the numbers are inflated.
Upton told the audience of roughly 20 people that the USDA will resurvey planted acreage information for 14 states, including Michigan, using the July 1-July 10 time frame. However, those dates have not been substantiated.
The fact the resurvey would take place was announced in a USDA press release on June 28, following NASS’s report earlier that day on planted acreage information, previously collected during the first two weeks of June. NASS will publish updated acreage estimates in the Crop Production report to be released at noon ET on Monday, Aug. 12.
It will be available online at www.nass.usda.gov/Publications.
The Hoods farm 1,200 acres, milk 500 cows, and raise all their own feed. They count themselves as one of the luckier ones in the area, as they planted soybeans and corn before the May rains and in between rain days.
“I told our guys that we need to use our time very wisely on this farm,” Hood said. “Every chance it was dry enough to go across the field, we did it and got our corn planted. And we got our first and second cuttings of hay up. It helped us get through this with minimal damage. But my luck amplifies what I know some guys are going through: Neighbors planting crops and tearing their fields up, (and) neighbors who may not have corn silage to feed their cattle. If crops don’t get planted, we’re going to have a real forage shortage come fall.”
The final stop on the day was Gibson Farms in Kalamazoo County. Robert Gibson and his wife farm in both Climax-Scotts, where they raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. He too shares concerns with Upton, including the need for a disaster declaration.
“We started planting in May and worked about three days,” Gibson said. “We worked a few days in June and are still doing so in July, hoping to be done by the fourth. We, like many, had to leave some for prevent plant. We’re going to have yield reduction for sure, (and) we’re a cutting behind with forage to the tune of 30 days. We sell our forage to a dairy, so that hurts our revenue, and it hurts the dairy because they don’t have the feed for the cows.”
Upton was clear to point out Michigan isn’t the only state facing weather-related problems.
“It’s not just us, it’s the whole Midwest,” he said. “We applauded what Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer did, asking for the emergency disaster request. Most of us from the Michigan delegation, regardless of party, signed a letter … to USDA Secretary Perdue, which we sent on June 21. I’m hoping the supplemental appropriations bill the president has now signed will provide some added relief that otherwise wouldn’t have been there, but it’s going to take USDA a little bit of time to figure this out.
“At least, hopefully, help’s on the way.”