EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Upper Peninsula of Michigan covers approximately 29% of Michigan’s land mass but is home to less than 3% of residents. This statistic leads to the question — what is the current status of the agriculture sector in the Upper Peninsula? 

Jim Collom, an agricultural statistician with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Great Lakes Region office in East Lansing, Mich., provided the following agricultural numbers for the Upper Peninsula from the 2022 Ag Census. 

Commodity Upper Peninsula total (acres) State total (acres) Upper Peninsula % of state Corn 8,909 2,101,033 0.4% Oats 4,578 30,046 15.2% Soybeans 4,687 2,349,749 0.2% Barley 1,795 7,226 24.8% Wheat 491 460,683 0.1% Hay 108,097 732,962 14.7% All Cattle 38,418 1,116,557 3.4% Milk Cows 9,240 436,254 2.1% Sheep 8,990 84,596 10.6% Goats 1,099 30,028 3.7% Hogs 834 1,262,145 0.1% Layers 12,684 17,234,017 0.1% Broilers 7,600 2,277,900 0.3% 

These estimates do not include numbers for pasture, which includes a large percentage of Upper Peninsula farmland. A dependable estimate of Michigan and Upper Peninsula land in pasture acres is not available. Still, a number comparable to the hay acreage may be acceptable for the Upper Peninsula, understanding that some hay and crop acreage may also be pastured within the same growing season. 

Upper Peninsula agriculture is mostly animal-based, with the bulk of crop production focused on livestock feed for on-farm use. Feed crops make up the bulk of the crop acreage including hay, pasture, corn, barley and oats. Cash crops include potatoes, dry beans, soybeans and wheat on smaller acreage. Most livestock enterprises focus on ruminant species, including beef and dairy cattle, sheep and goats. This allows for on-farm utilization of most Upper Peninsula crops produced. Many small, specialized farms are not included in these figures, such as diversified vegetable farms, U-pick farms, specialty crop farms, etc. 

How does the Upper Peninsula agricultural sector measure up to the rest of the state? It depends on how you look at it. If you compare agricultural production with total land mass, the Upper Peninsula doesn’t do so well, with 29% of the total Michigan land producing a much smaller percentage of these agricultural products. 

However, if you compare regional populations, the Upper Peninsula does better, with about 3% of the state’s population in the Upper Peninsula region. The Upper Peninsula produces 3% or more of several of the listed commodities, including hay, cattle, sheep, goats and barley. So, in that regard, the Upper Peninsula holds its own. 

Below is a breakdown of Upper Peninsula farm numbers and acres from the USDA Census of Ag. The Upper Peninsula is challenging the state and national trends toward fewer, larger farms. The overall trend has been toward more smaller farms.  

Year Upper Peninsula farm number Upper Peninsula farm acres Average Upper Peninsula farm size 1997 2,064 492,157 238 2002 2,042 374,630 183 2007 2,193 431,134 197 2012 2,252 466,176 207 2017 2,313 382,566 165 2022 2,083 404,102 194 

Michigan State University Extension supports the Upper Peninsula farmers with a team of educators and Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center staff in Chatham, Michigan. Part of that support includes responding to inquiries from people interested in establishing new farm businesses in the region. Extension educators always try to be realistic and avoid creating any false impressions about Upper Peninsula farming. There are pros and cons. As in all regions of Michigan and the U.S., farming systems need to match the existing conditions, including soils, climate, agricultural infrastructure and marketing opportunities. 

For more information, see the related article, “Why farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula?” 

— Michelle Sweeten, Michigan State University ExtensionUpdated from an original article written by Jim Isleib



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