Farmers reap reward with veggies despite weather concerns

Michigan's vegetable crops suffered only minor damage from bad weather last year, unlike the heavy losses to fruit, corn and hay.

The Michigan Farm Bureau says the state's vegetable crops suffered only minor damage from bad weather last year, unlike the heavy losses to fruit, corn and hay.

The group says statistics released last week by the

U.S. Department of Agriculture

show that vegetable production in Michigan was down about 2 percent in 2012 from the previous year, while the combined value of the vegetable crop rose by 3 percent.

"A good amount of our vegetables are grown with irrigation, so the drought wasn't as significant a factor for them as it was for row crops," said Ken Nye, horticulture specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau. "We had a pretty good planting time, then it got hot and dry. Late summer and fall weren't too bad, so overall we had a pretty long growing season. That hot weather wasn't so bad as long as you had some water to go with it."

"Despite the decrease in production from 2011, Michigan maintained its ranking as the eighth largest state in the value of fresh market vegetables," said Jay Johnson, director of the NASS Michigan Field Office.

The total tallies an even dozen consumer staples: asparagus, snap beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes.

Michigan leads the nation in squash production, which includes yellow summer squash and zucchini as well as hard varieties like butternut, acorn and hubbard. Michigan ranks second nationally in carrot and celery production.

In 2013, vegetable growers will again face the usual set of challenges: adequate heat and moisture, and the perennial threats of disease and pests. More than those, however, Nye fears the bruises of 2012 could carry over into the coming year in the form of an additional obstacle: labor.

"The availability of hand labor is the key concern for 2013," Nye said. "Most-not all, but most-vegetable crops require some kind of hand labor, and you can bet farmers are pretty nervous about that.

"Because we didn't really have a fruit crop last year, we may have lost a good deal of our usual labor force. It's hard to predict, but if they went elsewhere last year and, let's say, found greener pastures, they may not return this year."

The numbers are based on harvests of a dozen consumer staples, such as asparagus, snap beans, cabbage, carrots, squash and tomatoes.

Statewide production of most vegetable crops decreased slightly, but celery and sweet corn output rose.

Fruit crops such as cherries and apples were devastated last year by an early spring thaw, followed by a deep freeze that killed buds.