This week's Record-Eagle Agricultural Forum recounts some of the experiences of members of the Northwest Michigan New FARM (Farmer Assistance and Resource Management) program during the group's recent agricultural journey to New Zealand.
The trip was the culmination of a three-year program designed to identify and train young farmers to assume leadership positions to help ensure that agriculture remains an economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally sound industry in northwest Michigan.
To meet this lofty goal, the New FARM Program helped participants cultivate the following proficiencies:
n Develop and hone leadership, decision-making, facilitation, communication, team-work, and problem solving skills.
n Decipher challenges and opportunities in agricultural commodities, marketing strategies, profitability, and local, state, national, and international economies.
n Develop a better understanding of public policy, estate planning, and inter-generational farm transfer.
n Navigate the changing social, economic, and political environment as it relates to agriculture and rural communities.
The major outcome of this program is to produce a tight-knit, regional network of agricultural leaders that will help make informed, long-term decisions that positively shape northwest Michigan's rural communities. Our New Zealand trip helped fulfill this objective. The experiences gained abroad will further strengthen Michigan's agricultural industries, enhance our local communities, and preserve the agricultural heritage of the Grand Traverse region.
The New FARM Program members also thank the organizations that helped make both this effort possible: Traverse City Rotary Charities, USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Cherry Committee, Leelanau Conservancy, Leelanau Horticultural Society, Grand Traverse Fruit Growers' Council, and the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Foundation.
Nikki Rothwell is coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Leelanau County
'Once in a lifetime opportunity'
"Being able to tour New Zealand was simply a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to experience. Without the New FARM program and gracious grants we received, this never would have been possible.
We saw many different types of farms and different approaches taken on farms in New Zealand. While all the farmers of this group may not return home and try to implement all of the different practices we saw, an important thing we learned and enjoyed was that this trip helped us talk about our practices and our futures in the industry. The trip allowed us to expand and build relationships on a different level — relationships that we will take with us as we all move forward in our different agricultural fields."
Amy and Theron Coleman, sweet cherry growers in Leelanau County
'New Zealand was 'wow'''
"New Zealand was 'wow,' The group visited cherry orchards with a very tight market focus, extra large, high-quality, fresh, sweet cherries for the Asian market. We toured high-density apples, flat peaches and kiwifruit. Their vineyard business is expanding and is replacing tree fruit orchards. Most of their grape harvest is mechanical (amazing machines) and they charge premiums for wine made with hand-picked grapes.
Visits were made to hops yards and processing plants. They are able use sheep in the hops to remove bottom leaves. We learned about an insightful program that yields a growing and profitable dairy business. They do not have labor problems, which astounded us. But the best thing I saw was "¦ our group. We have met for two years, but after two weeks together we truly bonded. I look forward to working with these folks for the next 40 years ensuring that northwest Michigan has a growing and profitable agricultural economy."
Susan Odom runs a historic farmstay inn, "Hillside Homestead," in Suttons Bay
"As a small farm, and a new farmer, I found the broad exposure to New Zealand's agricultural industry to be very enlightening. It seemed that the farms were very open and accessible by the public — we will seek ways to incorporate this accessibility into our own farm. There's a unique emphasis on top-tier individual fruit piece quality to be sold at a premium to specialty markets. I was also inspired by the level to which the agricultural community has embraced environmentally conscientious practices."
Heather and Chad Jordan, of Delight of Life Farm in Leelanau County