Nov 22, 2010
Industry leader would like to tell ag’s story

Mike Kenny has deep roots in the Michigan vegetable industry, which should make him a fit president for the Michigan Vegetable Council.

As MVC’s vice president, Mike, 39, is in line to become president when new officers are elected in January. If elected, he’ll replace fellow vegetable grower Dave Miedema, who’s finishing his second year as president. Mike’s been a member of MVC since the late 1990s, and has been on the board of directors for four years, he said.

Mike’s family has been farming in central Michigan since the late 1800s, when his great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland. In 1984, his father and uncle started grading pickling cucumbers for Vlasic, which they’d been growing near Merrill, Mich., since 1968.

Vlasic used to be the family’s only customer, but now it also supplies pickling cucumbers to Bay Valley Foods, Heinz, Mt. Olive, Claussen and a few smaller companies, Mike said.

Mike’s family runs three businesses. He’s president of Kenny Inc., the cucumber operation in Michigan; and Kenny Bros. Produce, the cucumber grading operation in Delaware. His brothers Jeff, Greg and Pat run Kenny Bros. Farms, a soybean, wheat, sugar beet and cucumber operation in Michigan. Mike’s cousin, Bob, helps run the Delaware branch of the business, spending a few months down there every year. Some of Mike’s nieces and nephews are also part of the business. Mike and his wife, Liz, have two young sons.

The family grows more than 3,000 acres of cucumbers in Michigan and contracts another 4,000 acres to other growers in the state. They also contract 5,500 acres in Delaware. They opened a grading facility in Delaware in 2002, when asked to do so by Vlasic. Vlasic has two packing plants, one in Michigan and one in Delaware. The company didn’t want to grade pickles, just pack them, so the Kennys agreed to do the grading themselves. They grade pickles for other Delaware growers, too, Mike said.

The Kenny facilities in both states sort, wash and grade pickling cucumbers for multiple sizes, then send them to customers. About 40 percent of the pickles go to the brined market; the rest to fresh-pack. More than a million bushels per year go through the Michigan grading facility, Mike said.

Cucumber harvest in Michigan typically runs from July through September. Harvest started about a week early this year, with the overall crop size slightly above average. Delaware’s harvest season runs about a month longer than Michigan’s. They have a few full-time employees in each state, and hire dozens for the grading facilities during harvest. Most of the cucumbers are harvested by machine, though a few are picked by hand, Mike said.

Downy mildew has been a problem in the last few years. It started in Delaware in 2004, when they lost half their crop, and hit Michigan a year later. It forced growers to be much more diligent about spraying. Now, they spray every seven days, rotating a handful of chemicals including Tanos, Ranman, Presidio and Previcur Flex, he said.

The pickle market’s been pretty flat lately, but the family would like to expand if given the opportunity, Mike said.
Agriculture is a bright spot in Michigan’s economy, but it gets a lot of bad press. As president of MVC, Mike wants to help change the negative perceptions of agriculture – to tell ag’s story, so to speak.

He also wants to lobby on behalf of the vegetable and fruit industries, at the state and federal levels. He’s especially concerned about Michigan State University Extension. Funding is shrinking and programs are getting stretched, and he worries that produce growers might lose valuable Extension services.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor





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