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Workers, Investment Needed in Bay Region Breadbasket of Michigan

Ag Business Leader Jim Byrum Cites Opportunities in Agriculture Here

September 25, 2011       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Black beans under the name of "Black Pearls" ship out of here to Mexico.

Half the beans grown here are sold overseas.

And, the Bay Region is fourth in the nation in growing sugar beets.

Pickles on your hamburg from Wendy's, McDonald's or Burger King may very well have come from a farm and processor in northern Bay County, Bay View Food Products and Mr. Chips, says Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. That firm produces 5.5 percent of the nation's pickles, he said.

"This is the breadbasket of the state," says Byrum, who spoke here last week touting additional investment in local agriculture as well as the need for more workers with both low and high skills.

"There are a lot of opportunities but we have a huge problem finding people," he said. Expanding the guest worker program for immigrants is one way to address labor shortages, according to Mr. Byrum. Although technology has eliminated many laboring positions, sales people and equipment operators continue to be needed, along with ag scientists and managers -- "people at every level," he said.

Opportunities abound in logistics, processing, increased production of dairy, potatoes, pork and specialty crops.

Dry bean processing, fertilizer warehouses, grain handling, a pig butchery and infrastructure (roads, bridges, railroads, etc.) are among critical needs in the region, according to local ag experts. Also required are additional electricity, natural gas and broadband wireless.

A port authority and deep water port facilities, perhaps financed by bond issues, will boost the region's ag economic potential even more, said Mr. Byrum.

Other positives are Sen. Debbie Stabenow's position as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and her promise that a sugar program will be part of the next farm bill, said Wayne Wood of the Michigan Farm Bureau. Free trade agreements pending with several countries also will be a benefit, he added.

Farming is creeping northward, he said, citing the region's access to water as the key to the future especially since water supplies are increasingly scarce in California and many other areas.

A 3,000 cow dairy farm is reportedly going in up north.

The Bay area has 851 farms -- 95 percent family owned -- with about 186,000 acres under production, he said.

Meanwhile, over at The Dow Chemical Company in Midland, a $5 billion global ag chemical and biotech business is kicking out new products like fat free Omega-9 Sunflower Oil and Durango DMA, a new herbicide aimed at boosting crop yields.

A goal of doubling agricultural exports has been set by Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan ag groups. That potential was explored at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Ag Expo at the DoubleTree Hotel - Bay City Riverfront, last Thursday.

Growing world population and food shortages have put Bay County, heart of the Bay Region of Michigan, in the proverbial catbird seat, according to Mr. Byrum, Farm Bureau's Mr. Wood, and Ray Vandriessche of the Michigan Sugar Company.

He defines the Bay Region as six counties: Bay, Tuscola, Saginaw, Arenac, Midland and Huron. The region produced $4.4 billion in ag production last year, he said.

At $2.45 billion, corn is the dominant crop; soybeans are next with $1.150 billion, followed by wheat at $500 million, sugar $175 million and dry beans $125 million.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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