Michigan: The Hands that Feed You

Stefanie Pohl

Thursday, March 10, 2022

As March marks Food & Agriculture Month, we celebrate the prominence, variety, and deliciousness of Michigan’s agribusiness industry

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In honor and celebration of Michigan’s farmers, the diversity of products grown and processed in our state and the partnerships that keep our food and agriculture industry thriving, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proclaimed March as Michigan Food and Agriculture Month.

Michigan has a proud heritage of making things and providing for its communities, and that sustenance comes from the state’s robust agriculture industry. Farms and food-processing companies throughout the state generate and grow essential products, creating tens of thousands of jobs. In fact, Michigan’s food and agriculture industry contributes upward of $104.7 billion to the state’s economy. Michigan also offers access to a vast and efficient supply chain and logistics system, providing a cost-effective distribution throughout the Midwest, country and across the globe.

Thanks to its agricultural diversity, business climate and hardworking farmers, Michigan’s agribusiness industry has a hand in feeding the world.

“Michigan’s food and agriculture industry is a national powerhouse. We’ve generated 805,000 jobs, and more than $104 billion to our state’s economy annually, getting things done every single day. Innovators and entrepreneurs within the food and ag sector continue to choose Michigan to grow and establish their operations. They offer new business and career opportunities for Michiganders, making food and agriculture a cornerstone of Michigan’s continued reinvention.”

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Gretchen Whitmer

Governor of Michigan

 

The Cherry on Top

When it comes to the agriculture industry, Michigan is cultivating the ideal climate for both crops and business. With optimal weather conditions and a range of tools and resources, Michigan agribusinesses thrive and succeed.

Did you know?

  • Michigan produces more than 300 agricultural commodities, ranking second only to California in diversity.
  • Michigan is the No. 1 producer in the U.S. of tart cherries (65% of the U.S. total production), cucumbers, dry beans (cranberry, small red, black), squash and asparagus and ranks in the top 10 for production of many other valuable agricultural commodities.
  • Michigan ranks 6th in the nation and 1st in the Midwest for wine production.
  • There are nearly 250 farmers markets in Michigan.
  • Michigan has nearly 1,800 dairy farms with 427,000 dairy cows. In 2019, Michigan produced 11.4 billion pounds of milk, accounting for 5.2% of total U.S. milk production.

Traverse City is recognized nationally as the Cherry Capital of the World. Learn how Michigan’s own Cherry Republic has built success – and sold over 200 cherry-related products – to customers around the globe, thanks to support from the MEDC.

Where Food Businesses Thrive

From Michigan’s 10 million acres of farmland to its bustling cities and communities, the state is home to businesses big and small making a difference in the food industry.

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Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Department Director Gary McDowell visited food and agricultural businesses across the state as they advance during Michigan’s economic recovery for Michigan Agriculture’s March 2022 issue. The publication celebrates a diverse array of businesses across the state, from the multigenerational St. Julian Winery and Distillery in Paw Paw to Leprino Foods, the world’s largest mozzarella cheese maker – a key provider of an essential ingredient for Detroit-style pizza.

Michigan-grown foods also make for happier meals from fast food giant McDonalds, which sources millions of eggs, pounds of apples, gallons of milk and more from the state. In all, the McDonalds system has purchased $154 million in raw products from Michigan suppliers.

The cover story highlights businesses in Old Town Lansing, which was named a Michigan Main Street (MMS) program area in 2006 and continues to receive MMS support to further distinguish and brand the business district, particularly as a foodie destination. Old Town is home to unique small businesses like Cravings Popcorn, Meat Southern BBQ & Carnivore Cuisine and the Old Town General Store, which offers a variety of Michigan-produced specialty foods and products.

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Helping Hands

In addition to Michigan’s food and agriculture businesses, companies across the state are working to ensure those businesses survive and thrive.

Everyone benefits from products made by Michigan farm families who take pride in perfecting the art and science of growing fresh, high-quality foods and products – yet they can’t do it alone. Growers rely on partners like Six Lakes, Michigan-based Great Lakes Ag Irrigation Inc. to provide them with customized irrigation and water management solutions to help them keep up with the ever-growing demand for food and natural resources.

Through MEDC’s Capital Access Program, which helps reduce risk for lenders to ensure small businesses are able to secure the loans and financing they need, Great Lakes Ag Irrigation Inc’s President and CEO Clayton Irani was able to secure a $100,000 operating line of credit for his business.

Meanwhile, the future of agriculture and technology are merging in Michigan thanks to partnerships, including one between Silicon Valley’s FarmWise and Michigan-based Roush. In 2016, FarmWise was founded with the mission of providing farmers with a cost-effective alternative to pesticides for the health of the farmer, consumer and the environment. Michigan’s mobility initiative, now the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (formerly PlanetM), helped connect FarmWise to Michigan-based full-service product development supplier Roush to develop and test its autonomous vegetable weeders in Michigan. By working together to bring autonomous farming robots to life, FarmWise and Roush helped replace toxic herbicides, saving farmers on labor costs and increasing yield to improve overall farming efficiency.

Similarly, Stevensville-based Great Lakes Drone Company received a $50,000 grant in 2020 to test a first-of-its-kind aerial agriculture solution at the Michigan Unmanned Aerial Systems Consortium (MUASC). In partnership with California-based LahakX (previously Skyx Solutions), Great Lakes Drone Company utilized the funding to further develop an integrated hardware and software automated spraying solution to minimize environmental impact within the agriculture industry. This aerial solution would enable the use of a handful of drones to spray only the crops that need additional nutrients rather than blanket spraying all crops; the same is true for mosquito treatment of crops, allowing farmers to target larvae spots more accurately and, in turn, reduce the amount of chemicals used across their fields.

On the Right MTRAC

Michigan’s robust university and research ecosystem is also contributing to the success of the state’s agribusiness industry.

Created in 2012, the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program accelerates the transfer of new technologies from Michigan’s institutions of higher learning into the commercial market by way of licenses or startups. In 2016 the program expanded as a statewide program to support translational research throughout the state of Michigan. The expansion reinforces the commitment to entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth by providing a pathway to accelerate the creation and transfer of new technologies into the commercial market.

Among the five Innovation Hubs across the state is the MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio, supported by the Michigan State University Innovation Center and Office of the Vice President for Research. Housed at MSU, the MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio accelerates commercial development of AgBio projects with a goal of translating research happening at the university level into the commercial market by way of a license or startup.

The MSU MTRAC program focuses on agricultural and industrial biotechnology, biomaterials, bioprocessing and related technologies that fall outside the domain of human medicine. This can include research in areas from animal and crop health to innovative machine learning and blockchain applications useful in agriculture and food production, as well as novel food, fiber and biomaterial processing. Recent examples of the areas of translational research have included funding in bio-based chemicals, biofuel synthesis, livestock health and nutrition, crop improvement, novel consumer food products and agricultural production tools and methods.

Growth across the State

In October 2021, Governor Whitmer announced an agribusiness expansion across Michigan, from food manufacturing company Request Foods’ expansion at multiple locations in Holland – creating up to 198 jobs – to a community revitalization project in Detroit.

Request Foods is a contract manufacturer of frozen foods, with over 600,000 sq. ft. of cooking, blending, freezing and packing capacity; it’s a one-stop resource for R&D, processing and specialty packaging. Featured on The Michigan Opportunity Podcast, Request Foods CFO Menaka Abel shares her international path from Sri Lanka to Request Foods, and all the stops in between. Listen here.

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Request Foods expansion in Holland

Meanwhile, a new food incubator project in Detroit is expected to generate a total capital investment of $18.4 million and create 49 full-time equivalent jobs.

The Detroit Food Commons Redevelopment Project will construct a new two-story, mixed-use building on Woodward Ave. When completed, the project will include the Detroit Food Commons on the first floor, a community-owned store selling healthy, locally sourced food with a neighborhood café. The second floor will include a fully licensed kitchen to serve as an incubator for local food enterprises, along with community event and banquet space, common area space and office space for area nonprofit Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

The project will not only bring critical access to food security for area residents but is also expected to serve as a catalyst for additional density and economic activity in the neighborhood.

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Detroit Food Commons Redevelopment Project

The food and agriculture industry are key ingredients to the success of Michigan’s growing economy. With the state’s agricultural prowess and growth, the world is in good hands.

Learn more about Michigan’s agribusiness industry at https://www.michiganbusiness.org/industries/agribusiness/.

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