MARQUETTE - While agricultural experts across the state are saying that global warming and climate change have proved beneficial to farmers in northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, most local farmers claim to be having a hard time with the unpredictable climate.
Experts attribute more farming opportunities and a longer growing season to a global increase in temperature. However some Marquette-area farmers see the rising temperature as both a positive and a negative.
"It's been really hard to predict what the weather's going to be," Mike Hainstock, owner of Badger Creek Farms in Marquette, said. "I feel like a lot of the seasons this year came out of order."
Mike Hainstock of Badger Creek Farms in Marquette gestures toward his vegetable garden site Thursday. Hainstock said that the warmer temperatures this growing season presented problems in feeding his livestock and in yielding maple syrup. (Journal photo by Amanda Monthei)
Hainstock said that while the unseasonably warm temperatures in March of this year allowed for an earlier start to the growing season, his maple syrup yield ended up being much less than years prior.
"(In 2011) I definitely noticed that there was a longer (growing) season," he said. "I didn't have a frost here until Oct. 20 or so. But this year, our spring started really early in March, when there were couple weeks of 80 degrees days.
"That sort of stopped the maple syrup flow in its tracks."
Hainstock said that he took the warm weather as a sign that the growing season was starting early, but after putting seeds out in March, he found that he wasn't getting a yield come April.
"It seemed like 'OK, it's vegetable season, you should throw stuff in the ground,' so I threw stuff in the ground in March and it didn't really do anything. I came back and planted again in April and everything that I planted in April looked really great."
But with a hotter than normal summer, Hainstock said most of his plants were drying out by June and July, which also indirectly effected his livestock.
"I have a bunch of dairy goats and since I'm trying to feed them and have milk through the winter, I'm trying to buy hay and grain," Hainstock, who buys all of livestock feed from U.P. sources, said. "But the yields on hay (this year), for most farmers, were 30 or 40 percent of what they are normally."
The highest yielding crops in the northern parts of Michigan, according to Jeremy Nagel of the Michigan Farm Bureau, are hay, small grains, potatoes, beef cattle and dairy. However, the southern part of the state allows for more diversity in crop yields, and can thus support a bigger variety of vegetables and even fruit trees like apricots, cherries and apples.
Yet, with southern-Michigan farmland prices getting more and more expensive, many farmers are moving north in search of unutilized and cheaper land. According to the Department of Agriculture, only 10 percent of Michigan's 10 million acres of farmland are in the northern regions of the state.
In fact, Hainstock said that in just a mile radius of his farm on County Road 492, there are nearly 100 acres of fertile land that were once farmland and that could and should be currently utilized.
"I have 3.7 acres with maybe an acre or two of clear space," he said. "But then I start looking around me and I realize that there are probably hundreds of acres of unused prior farmland (nearby).
"Up until the 20s, this was the edge of town and this was all farmland up here. Basically everyone ate with the seasons from the farms that were here."
The land that was once farmland is the most useful land in the area, according to Hainstock, as the soil has already been improved with time.
"It still hasn't been farmed and improved as much as those areas that have had a lot more work done to them (in southern Michigan)," he said. "There's a lot of fertile land down towards Skandia and Chocolay and even up in this area. All of Bishop Woods (on Marquette CR 492) used to be a farm, this used to be a farm, the neighbors' yard was a pig pasture. But everything needs a different set of conditions and environment to grow in so (the soil and weather) have worked for some things and not so much for other things."
Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500.