Visiting Michigan Farms

One of the great things about my job is that I get to travel and see agriculture in many different parts of the United States. This week I had the pleasure to visit three Michigan farms. Two were dairy farms and one was a beef cattle/swine operation.  Warning: My job focuses on manure management, so you can guess which “end” of the farm was interesting to me.

This beautiful, old Michigan barn had a great stone foundation and was well maintained. Even though it was not ideal, the farmers on this operation chose to utilize it and retrofit for their needs rather than tear it down and start over.

Some things I noticed on this trip:

  • Farm people are nice everywhere.
  • Fields are much smaller in Michigan than Nebraska. I am pretty sure there are no 24 row (or bigger) planters. Even if the fields were big enough to handle those planters, I do not think the roads are!
  • History matters. Many of the Michigan farmers we visited would face fewer challenges if they relocated to Nebraska or other areas (fewer neighbors, more land to spread manure, less observation by people outside of the farm). However, they are reluctant to move because they greatly appreciate the community and family ties that exist in their current location. Which leads me to the next point….
  • Young farmers do exist!!  Two of the three farms we visited had a younger generation actively managing and participating in farm decisions (On the 3rd farm, the next generation was far too young to be included…yet). I find young farmers in Nebraska too, but it seems like farms are being absorbed and cannibalized at such a rate as to make young farmers more and more rare.
  • I was gratified to see that “medium” farms do still exist. I have no problem with large farms and I am very excited to see the rise of “small” farms occurring in modern agriculture. However, I have really lamented the demise of the medium-sized farm that can support a family and offer opportunities for the next generation to get started. I grew up on a “medium” farm and worry that as fewer children grow up on farms we have created a generation of people who do not understand or appreciate the value of hard work or physical labor.

All in all, it was a great trip. I love seeing how agriculture is different, and alike, in different areas. I would love to hear more about your travels and your observations about agriculture in different parts of the country (and world).


About jheem

I grew up on a diversified dairy farm in southeast South Dakota where I learned how to throw a hay bale, pull a calf, deal with death, and "name" the cows. I was in 4H and FFA, and was privileged to serve as a state FFA officer. In college, I studied animal science, focusing on beef cows, mostly because I figured they were less work than dairy cows....I ended up with a Masters Degree in ruminant nutrition and went to work for the University of Nebraska, first as a research tech coordinating data collection for a swine unit and beef feedlot on a research farm and then as an extension educator. In my current job, I focus on environmental issues related to animal agriculture (which is a nice way of saying I talk about manure alot). My husband and I live and work on a seedstock cattle operation in northeast Nebraska. You can learn more about our cattle operation by visiting my husband's blog at
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2 Responses to Visiting Michigan Farms

  1. Lona says:

    Well, darn. I wish you could have stopped by to see our farm and how we manage our manure while you were here in our great state. We’ve got some big equipment a few places in our state, but I’m sure nothing like Nebraska. We use a 4-row planter. It works–we just get to drive back and forth a bit more. =)

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