Q&A with Terry Henne, WSGW Farm Service Radio

Terry Henne is a broadcaster and a farmer. You can listen to Henne throughout the day on WSGW, Newsradio 790 AM/100.5 FM, in Saginaw. He presents Farm Service Radio at 5:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 6:20 p.m. You can also watch his show streamed live on Facebook. In June, Henne marked his 50th year of being on-air at WSGW. He started Farm Service Radio in 1973. 

Terry Henne is the head of Farm Service Radio for WSGW in Saginaw.Henne grew up on a farm in the Thumb. With his brother and mother, Henne owns a farm corporation in the Caseville-Bayport-Pigeon area where they own and rent 2,000 acres. Their crops include wheat, corn, soybeans, dry beans, sugar beets, and alfalfa. Henne’s a graduate of Michigan State University, where he majored in broadcasting and minored in business administration, marketing, and accounting. 

Henne and his wife Sharon live in Richville, north of Frankenmuth. They have three children and seven grandchildren, with another on the way.  

Henne is one of three voting members in the state of Michigan for the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB). He served for 15 years on the NAFB’s foundation board, including some time as treasurer.

Q: Looking back at the past 50 years, what are some key trends that you’ve observed in farming?

A: So much more technology has gone into the equipment. The average farmer doesn't have to do the same amount of guesswork as they used to. It’s made the production aspect speed up. It doesn’t take as long to plant or harvest. 

Livestock agriculture has gone into the hands of fewer people, more big corporations. You don’t have the Mom-and-Dad dairy farms, chicken farms, pig farms. The big boys are able to produce a little bit cheaper product and the children of the farmers had more options after they graduated from high school. 

A lot of that has to do with options. Back in the day, the kid’s life was on the farm. That’s not the case anymore. Farming’s hard work. You saw an erosion in the workforce — Dad got into his 60’s, kids were moving away, so they sold or rented the farm. They don’t have the family to do the work. 

There are a fewer number of young people in agriculture today, but we are seeing a bit of a resurgence. Agriculture skipped a generation. It skipped Mom and Dad and has gone in some cases to the grandchildren who are getting involved. 

So much more technology has gone into the equipment. The average farmer doesn't have to do the same amount of guesswork as they used to.
Q: What role does agriculture play in the Great Lakes Bay Region and in Michigan? 

A: Agriculture is a key ingredient in our economy in Michigan. It accounts for more than 111 billion dollars in the state economy each year. It’s one of the top three industries: Agriculture is number one, automotive is number two, and tourism, number three. 

Michigan is the most diversified production agriculture state in the country. The closest state to us is California. California, dollar-wise, is greater, but the number of crops raised in Michigan is greater than California’s. In our area, the Great Lakes Bay Region (GLBR), agriculture is definitely king now. Automotive used to be bigger. Seven percent of the population in the GLBR is involved in agriculture.  

In state terms, 93-95% of every person involved in production agriculture listens to farm radio at least three times per week. Our listening audience is dramatically higher than that. We lead off with the weather; you’ve got to know the weather. If I can deliver a good, accurate, timely weather forecast, I’m going to get a lot of listeners. We go in-depth, projected times, growing degree days. We go in deeper than anyone else and we put it into layman’s terms. We want to make sure they understand what’s going on. I don’t use the big words that use the alphabet twice. Other than the weather, I like to rely on experts to supply people with the information. 

Agriculture is a key ingredient in our economy in Michigan. It accounts for more than 111 billion dollars in the state economy each year.
Q: What are your concerns for farming going forward? 

A: Government programs, first and foremost, and along with that, the people who determine those programs. They're getting more removed from agriculture with each generation and with some of them, each year. 

The Farm Bill comes up for renewal every four or five years. It contains a lot of government assistance for poor people and farmers to help them operate in good and bad years, water quality issues, concerns about property and land rights, and the rights of an individual to do what they wish on their private property. In our area, crop insurance changes have an impact. The sugar industry can be dramatically affected by legislation. Sugar processing is one of the largest industries in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

The DNR (Department of Natural Resources in Michigan), their direction and the Department of Agriculture’s. It’s vitally important to have people who know agriculture in those positions. 

Henne's concerns for farming going forward are government programs and the people who determine them, DNR and the USDA, infrastructure, and broadband access.Transportation issues — infrastructure, are so important to agriculture. Getting the crop to the elevator and then to where it goes for processing. It’s a really, really important issue. If Washington would just address the infrastructure and not shove other programs and initiatives into that legislation, we’d be better off. 

Internet and broadband access. Rural American and rural Michigan are behind the 8-ball on broadband technology. You’ve got to have broadband access. There are some very underserved areas in our region.

Q: Why is farming/agriculture your life?

There are a fewer number of young people in agriculture today, but we are seeing a bit of a resurgence. A: I love it. It’s my life, and I love doing fun things. If it wouldn’t be fun, I wouldn’t be doing it. Working with people, listening to people, talking to people — I love being around people.

Q: Are you hopeful for the future?

A: Very much. I like what I see. I like the young people moving up into the high schools, learning so much. They’re able to do more than what I could do at their age. They’re going to see things that you and I will never imagine. I’ve seen things I never thought were possible. Who would have thought a tractor could drive itself and plant a straight row of sugar beets?

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020. "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."