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Here in my part of the Northeast, we’ve made it nearly to the end of March without having to wield our snow shovels more than once or twice, a nice surprise after a pre-Halloween storm that many of us thought might herald another rough winter. Instead, we’ve enjoyed unseasonably warm temperatures and an early start to the spring blooming season. Seemingly overnight, bright yellow forsythia and jonquils have exploded, trees are full of buds and winter’s brown landscape is rapidly transforming into spring’s many shades of green.
It’s a great thing for those of us whose temperaments flourish when temperatures rise, but what does it mean for the farmers who put food on our plates?
Plants are putting out buds early all over the country, and the warm winter also has bears coming out of hibernation earlier than they’re supposed to. Finding little wild food to forage, they are raiding farmers’ fields and taking a bite out of the season’s early crops, The Cornell Daily Sun reported. More deer than usual also survived the winter, and they’re nibbling the buds that fruit trees need to produce food later in the year.
Also around the country, consumers are increasingly seeking out local produce, according to a Mintel report released last week. More than half of consumers surveyed said local has become more important to them than organic, but growing hordes of locavores may have better luck in some markets than others.
March came into suburban Chicago like a lamb, pushing fruit trees to bud and gardeners to get started with their vegetable growing nearly a month ahead of schedule, but gardening experts warn it could be a costly false start, the Daily Herald reported Saturday. “I haven’t seen anything like this, and I’ve been working at the arboretum for 35 years,” said Ed Hedborn, manager of plant records at Morton Arboretum.
But cold weather may still be hovering, weather that could bring a hard frost as late as May and crush the hopes of growers looking to get a jump on the season’s farmers markets. “Not a lot of the produce we eat is grown without our region. But it could have a big impact on the burgeoning local foods effort where we see more and more people trying to grow stuff locally to get fresher and better tasting food,” said University of Illinois crop sciences professor Bruce Branham.
It’s not all bad news. In New Jersey, where meteorologists are predicting winter’s warm temperatures to hang around, the early start to the growing season may mean a more bountiful harvest of blueberries, tomatoes and corn this summer. According to The Star Ledger, the Garden State is also on track to get mosquitoes early and ticks in record numbers, and the warm winter kept bees active and eating up their food supplies when they would normally be dormant. The result: seriously depleted hives that will result in a dearth of honey this season. Still, farmers are looking on the bright side.
“Mother Nature always holds the advantage,” said Peter Furey, the New Jersey Farm Bureau’s executive director. “But when it’s warm like this, it gives the grower a little bit of a head start.”
By Janet Forgrieve on March 27th, 2012
Travel Spending in Michigan Up by 7.8% in 2011 Due to 'Pure Michigan' Branding and Rebounding Economy
Outlook for Another 6% Rise for 2012
By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News March 27, 2012--Finally, the mojo is returning to the state's $17 billion tourism industry.
After a near-decade-long swoon, travel spending in the state jumped 7.8% last year -- partly due to Michigan's hot "Pure Michigan" branding and partly due to a rebounding economy.
This year, tourism spending should rise another 6%, according to a new Michigan State University tourism outlook report released today by MSU tourism researchers, who are speaking this morning at the Pure Michigan Governors Conference on Tourism here.
Tourism volume and prices in 2012 should rise 3%, the report forecasts, with strong showings statewide.
Tourism is the state's third largest industry after manufacturing and agriculture.
Even if gasoline is $4 a gallon this summer, it should not deter people who are determined to take a vacation, said Dan McCole, assistant professor of tourism at MSU.
Bad weather can affect tourism, but last year was 16% wetter and 3% cooler than normal and travel spending rose anyway, the report showed.
Travel spending data is based on state sales tax and use tax collections.
Due to the state's "Pure Michigan" national advertising campaign, last year was the first time that travel spending in Michigan by non-residents was higher than that of residents, Travel Michigan's Vice President George Zimmermann reported earlier. Last year, there were 3.2 million out-of-state visitors to Michigan who spent $1 billion, a fact highlighted by Gov.Rick Snyder in an appearance before 900 travel officials at the conference Monday night . He said the "Pure Michigan" campaign was enhanced by its partnerships with cities across the state.
"It shows what working together can do," he said.
Asked if the state 's annual tourism budget should be even higher than $25 million, he said although the state has finite resources, the return on investment for "Pure Michigan" dollars has been worthwhile .
(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
_The U.S. hotel industry reported increases in all three key performance metrics in 2011, according to data from STR.
Overall, the U.S. hotel industry's occupancy rose 4.4 percent to 60.1 percent, its average daily rate was up 3.7 percent to US$101.64 and its revenue per available room increased 8.2 percent to US$61.06.
2011 was the first time since 2008 that the industry ended the year with occupancy of more than 60 percent and an ADR of more than US$100.
The industry reported a 0.6-percent increase in supply in 2011 and a 5.0-percent demand increase for the year. Demand has increased 5.0 percent or more only three times since 1987.
"2011 was a strong year for the U.S. hotel industry," said Randy Smith, co-founder and chairman at STR. "Room-supply growth continued to drift downward as room demand reached record levels during the year. Though occupancy and ADR were still below 2007 and 2008 levels, it was still encouraging to see the industry experience a solid rebound during a period of considerable economic difficulties."
"In 2012 the hotel industry will face tough year-over-year comparisons, though we are still optimistic," Smith continued. "With modest gains in occupancy and stronger increases in room rates, we expect RevPAR to increase about 4.3 percent in 2012."
Among the Top 25 Markets, Detroit, Michigan, ended the year with the largest occupancy increase, up 10.2 percent to 59.8 percent, followed by Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 9.7-percent increase to 60.5 percent. New Orleans, Louisiana, ended the year virtually flat with a 0.4-percent decrease to 64.2 percent.
Two markets ended the year with double-digit ADR increases: San Francisco/San Mateo, California (+13.9 percent to US$155.14), and Oahu Island, Hawaii (+10.0 percent to US$165.05). Atlanta, Georgia (-0.4 percent to US$82.58), and Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Virginia (-0.3 percent to US$84.24) were the only top markets to report ADR decreases in 2011.
San Francisco/San Mateo achieved the largest RevPAR increase, rising 19.7 percent to US$122.54, followed by Nashville (+14.8 percent to US$58.01) and Miami-Hialeah (+14.1 percent to US$115.65). None of the top markets reported RevPAR decreases for the year.
Ernst & Young: Hospitality Sector Recovery Likely to Continue in 2012 Despite Ongoing Global Economic Uncertainty
__Hospitality market fundamentals look set to continue the recovery which started in 2011 in spite of continuing uncertainty and the prospect of further upheaval in the global and regional economies according to Ernst & Young's latest Global Hospitality Insights report published today.
Despite the uncertain global economic environment, hospitality indicators continue to appear positive. "The conventional wisdom suggests that key fundamentals should be on the wane, but that has not happened yet and, due to many factors, we don't believe it will occur in 2012," said Michael Fishbin, Ernst & Young's leader of Global Hospitality Services. Nevertheless, Fishbin suggests hotel operators and investors in the sector need to stay focused and not have a false sense of security by the overall numbers.
"The situation for the hotel industry is markedly different from market to market and global operators need to be on their toes and ready to react to rapidly changing conditions," he added.
Fishbin contrasted hospitality markets in developed economies, such as the US, with some developing economies such as China and Brazil, where construction has been very active. In the US, currently the largest hotel market in the world, the construction of new hotels has historically averaged around two percent per year but in recent years, and for the foreseeable future, is projected to be less than one percent per year. "Even with the uncertain economic outlook, hotel supply is not going to outpace demand any time soon, giving fundamentals such as room rates and overall occupancy a chance to further recover," Fishbin said.
Among emerging economies, Brazil could fare the best over the next decade in part by the impact of two mega events -- the FIFA Soccer World Cup and the Summer Olympics -- scheduled to take place there in 2014 and 2016, respectively. These events will attract millions of travelers to the country and while hotel construction has been increasing in preparation for both events, officials are taking a pragmatic approach in order to avoid overbuilding.
Fishbin concludes that while the bias among hotel companies will be to continue to grow in 2012, that growth should not come without a fair amount of checking back in the rear view mirror. "This isn't a time for hotel operators to abandon the principles that allowed them to navigate through the recent economic downturn," he says. Many companies are still sitting on piles of cash waiting for an opportunity to transact, says Fishbin. "Companies should take advantage of this breathing room to reassess and examine their capital agendas to make sure they are using cash wisely and efficiently as well as preparing for future growth," he says.
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