Census of Agriculture Unlike the U.S. Census, conducted every 10 years, the Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years. Conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the 2022 Census of Agriculture is the only mechanism providing a complete picture of all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Census data inform decisions that affect agriculture, the community and industry as a whole. Everyone who receives a census form is required by law to respond and complete the survey by Feb. 6, 2023. A card was mailed out in late November and allowed recipients to respond with an electronic version. A 24-page printed copy was then mailed out in early December with a four-page instruction sheet for all 36 sections of the survey. Information gathered is used for statistical purposes and will be kept confidential by law.      

Cover Crops A friend sent me an article from a writer for USA Today stating that “Ancient farming practice makes a comeback as climate change puts pressure on crops.” The author is a person from San Francisco who writes about climate change. The article is obviously written by someone with no background in agriculture and who just wanted to get a headline for attention about her slant about climate change. “Ancient farmers” did not plant or use cover crops, the term wasn’t in vogue until recently, as older generations of farmers and ranchers, going back to Old Testament Bible days, simply had pastures and fields of hay for their animals. The principle is still a preferred practice so farmers don’t have to constantly haul feed in from the field and then have to haul manure back onto it. 

All older farmers in Monroe County and elsewhere can recall their fathers, mothers and previous generations raising livestock for meat, milk, eggs, honey, leather or furs. It was common to say that when a hog was butchered, everything was used but the squeal. My family farm in north central Illinois had dairy, beef, hogs, chickens, cats and a dog. My grandfather was tickled when they got their first tractor, partly because they didn’t have to feed it all winter like they did their horses. And they took care of the horses and animals as the animals provided for the farmer.

One of the oldest family farms in Monroe County has raised sheep since 1835 as they drove the livestock from Vermont to Monroe County. Henry Ford was born and raised on a family farm in Dearborn and was mechanically inclined, as we all know. He predicted automobiles and tractors would replace horses and called a horse a “1,200-pound hay motor of one horsepower.”

Cover crops are a good change to agriculture as farmers without livestock have little need for hay, oats, clover, pastures or grain sorghum in their crop rotation. At a meeting this past week, a professor from Western Illinois University even suggests mixing a grass, legume and brassicas in a cover crop mix. With over 1,300 miles of surface drainage in Monroe County alone, keeping soil and nutrients on the land and out of Lake Erie, partly by the use of cover crops and filter strips, is a highly recommended practice.

Pollinators A better way to think of using cover crops is to think of using those that can double as pollinators.  Two out of every three bits of our food, including fruits, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts and spices, is created with the help of pollinating insects, including birds and bees. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 75% of the different crops we grow for food depend on pollinators to some extent. At two December pesticide classes, a new topic was presented on pollinators and participants learned that there are over 460 kinds of bees in Michigan, although only one honey bee species. And pollinating crops attract beneficial insects that can feed upon other predator insects that harm our crops.

Even more specific is to attract beneficial insects with native flowering plants. MSU Extension bulletin E-2973 talks about using 46 native Michigan plants on the basis of their varying bloom periods and ability to survive in agricultural habitats. Two sources (of many) of pollinator seeds that I received in the past couple of weeks included; 2023 Seed Guide by Welter Seed and Honey Co. and Prairie Moon Nursery’s 2023 Winter/ Spring catalog of native seeds and plants for gardening and restoration.

Ned Birkey is an MSU Extension educator emeritus and a regular contributor to The Monroe News.

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