It’s corn! ... and other foods grown in Michigan, by the numbers

Michigan agriculture: What we grow, what we’re known for

FILE - In this July 11, 2018, file photo, a field of corn grows in front of an old windmill in Pacific Junction, Iowa. The Trump administration overpaid corn farmers by about $3 billion in federal aid in 2019 and farmers in the South were paid more for the same crops than those elsewhere in the country, a federal watchdog agency has found. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File ) (Nati Harnik, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“It’s corn!”

It’s a viral TikTok song, it’s a beloved fall food, it’s ... not really a major agricultural product in the state of Michigan.

Don’t get me wrong, our Great Lakes State produces a lot of corn, but it doesn’t rank among the nation’s top producers. There are some crops, though, that Michigan is much more known for.

The agriculture industry in Michigan comprises a huge portion of the state’s economy and workforce. With just under 10 million acres of farmland and roughly 47,600 farms operating on that land, there are more than 300 commodities produced on a commercial basis in the state. And, about 17% of the state’s employment stems from the food and agricultural sector.

The products bring in billions and billions of dollars every year.

Farming clearly has a huge impact on the state, but what impact do Michigan’s agricultural products have on the rest of our country, or even other countries? There are some Michigan-grown commodities that people just can’t get enough of -- let’s see what they are.

Michigan’s agricultural exports

Of the more than 300 agricultural commodities produced in Michigan, the state exports about $1-$2 billions worth in a year. The state’s top agricultural exports, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, are:

  • Processed food products
  • Wood and wood products
  • Soybeans and soybean meal
  • Vegetables
  • Dry beans
  • Cereals
  • Baked goods
  • Pasta

Where does Michigan export its foods to?

According to the state, Michigan primarily exports its food products to Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and China.

What Michigan’s known for

When it comes to the “greatest economic impact” in Michigan’s food and agriculture industry, livestock -- and the dairy they help create -- come in at No. 1. But field crops come in a very close second, MDARD says.

It’s likely that you associate cherries and cherry production with the state of Michigan, and for good reason: Michigan is the top producer of tart cherries in the U.S. But some other foods commonly grown and sold in Michigan -- like apples, for instance -- aren’t necessarily grown the most in Michigan of all the states.

Cherries

There’s no denying that Michigan knows its cherries.

The Great Lakes State is the No. 1 producer of tart cherries in the U.S., producing about 75% of all the nation’s tart cherries. The state does also grow sweet cherries, but not to the same degree.

Last year, about 96.6 million pounds of tart cherries were produced in Michigan. The yield is likely below that number.

This may seem like a lot of cherries, but the state actually usually produces more. In 2018, 201 million pounds of tart cherries were produced in Michigan. With some extreme weather changes during the last two years, however, tart cherry production has yielded less than normal.

Washington state and Oregon are the other top producers of tart cherries in the country.

Asparagus

This one may take you by surprise: Michigan is the top producer of asparagus in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan farmers produced 28,851,200 pounds of asparagus in 2021, valued at around $22.9 million.

“The long green stalks are one of Michigan’s first crops to appear in the spring. Much of Michigan’s asparagus is grown near the Lake Michigan shoreline where the moderate temperatures and soils make for excellent production conditions,” an MDARD publication reads. “Michigan asparagus, unlike asparagus from other states, is hand-snapped above the ground. This method yields a more tender and flavorful product.”

Other top asparagus-producing states include: California, New Jersey and Washington.

Apples

It’s finally apple -- and, more importantly, apple cider -- season in Michigan! Not much is better than hot apple cider on a sunny, crisp fall day in our beautiful state.

Did you know that apples are the most popular fruit in the U.S.? A USDA survey in 2019 found that apples and oranges are the most popular fruits in the nation -- but that does include juice. When taking away the juice option, bananas are actually the most popular fruit.

In 2021, Michigan produced 656 million pounds of apples. In 2018, more than 1 billion pounds of apples were harvested, according to the state. About 55% of the state’s apples are processed into other products. The state reportedly uses “more apples than any other state for pies and fresh-cut slices and processing into applesauce, fresh and shelf-stable apple cider, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar,” officials say.

Michigan produces plenty of apples each year, but it is not the top apple producer in the country.

Washington state actually produces the most apples, with Michigan coming in third place in 2021. New York, Pennsylvania and California also top the list.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is reportedly the oldest agricultural enterprise in the country.

Michigan is home to around 300,000,000 sugar maple trees. While the industry has grown, most of those Michigan trees remain untapped.

Michigan produces a lot of maple syrup, but it definitely doesn’t produce the most. As of 2015, Michigan had only tapped 0.2 percent of its potential maple taps.

According to the USDA, Michigan produced 150,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2021. In comparison, the nation’s top producer, Vermont, produced 1,750,000 gallons that same year.

Michigan ranks about fifth in the nation for maple syrup production. Following Vermont, New York, Maine and Wisconsin rank above our state.

Soybeans

Soybeans are a popular commodity in the upper Midwest United States, a region that collectively cultivates about 80% of the nation’s soybeans.

Michigan grows a lot of the product, producing 6,111,840,000 pounds of soybeans in 2021. As of 2018, soybeans were Michigan’s top food export, the state says.

Other states still outgrow Michigan’s soybean count.

Illinois is the nation’s top producer of soybeans, producing 40,358,400,000 pounds of soybeans in 2021. Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana are also among the top soybean producers in the country.

Corn

We’re back to the corn ...

Michigan is not among the top 10 corn producers in the U.S. The state ranked 11th for corn production in 2020, but it did not in 2021.

The state that produces the most corn is Iowa, which is then followed by Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Let’s compare:

  • Iowa produced 142,926,000,000 pounds of corn in 2021.
  • Michigan produced 19,390,560,000 pounds of corn in 2021.

We may not produce the most corn, but we do have some cool corn mazes to check out during the fall! Here’s a list of some Metro Detroit spots to check out.

With hundreds of agricultural commodities produced in the Great Lakes State, we could do comparisons like this for days. But if you’re interested in learning more about the state’s agriculture sector, MDARD has a list of resources you can check out right here.


Previously on Data Drop:


About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.