Integrated System for Sustainability of High Value Field Crops

Final Report for LNC94-064

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $73,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $92,883.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
James LeCureux
Michigan State University Extension
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Project Information


[Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables and figures that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or [email protected].]

The Innovative Farmers of Huron County (IF) were organized in early 1994 for the purpose of developing alternative cropping systems that reduce erosion, improve soil quality and reduce investment while maintaining the family farm's income.

The members have assessed themselves an annual membership fee of $100 each. Initially, there were 47 members in 1994 and the membership has grown to 81 in 1996. Some of the membership is from nearby counties and three other IF groups have been formed following the Huron County model.

Members are divided into eight working groups to plan, design and evaluate four tillage systems (fall plow, fall chisel, trans-till and zone-till) being used to produce a corn, dry bean and sugar beet rotation. Two 40-acre parcels have been rented by the IF group where randomized and replicated .5 acre plots are being used to develop these systems.

Yields generated in the first year (1994) exhibited a large gap between the traditional fall plow and chisel systems vs the trans-till and zone-till systems. The members at the winter meetings, became more aggressive, brushed aside some of the existing myths and have created systems that are highly competitive in 1995 and 1996. Because of the adjustments made in the systems, the yield gap has been closed with the two strip-till systems out yielding the traditional systems in some cases.

During the past two years, the IF group met several times with guest speakers including Ray Rawson, Rawson Zone-Till System developer; John Anibel, a Michigan farmer involved in site- specific agriculture; and farmers from Scandinavia. The World Wildlife Fund sponsored the group from Scandinavia. A representative of the IF group was invited to participate in a press conference on "Capitol Hill" that dealt with the release of a report on the "State of Nation's Coast" by the Coast Alliance.

In addition, the Annual Innovative Farmers Tours have resulted in over 200 farmers, government agency and environmental group representatives visiting the IF plots in each of the last two years. The group has been featured in a number of State and National publications. Changes are starting to occur on individual farms and this program is providing the impetus for that change.

The Innovative Farmers Project is also unique in that 52 agribusinesses, commodity groups, government agencies and lending institutions have provided equipment, supplies and financial support.

Members are taking ideas generated at the IF sites and utilizing them on their farms. Members are building their own zone-till planters, planting crops in twin seven-inch rows and interseeding between rows, starting to use zone-till equipment on their own farms and adapting zone-till to narrow row (22") production.

A rural sociologist identified 16 reasons farmers can't or won't adopt conservation tillage and the Innovative Farmers Project is geared to address those issues.

Project Objectives:

1. Develop high residue sustainable agriculture cropping system for the production of corn, dry beans and sugar beets using reduced tillage, cover crops and a total integrated cropping system to reduce soil erosion and increase farm family income.

2. Help policy makers, agency representatives and agribusinesses become part of the solution and limit barriers to the adoption of new technology.

3. Develop techniques for farmers to learn farmer-to-farmer and for them to be actively involved in the process to find solutions to societal problems.

4. Reduce the dependency upon commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the production of high value field crops, such as sugar beets and dry beans.

5. Demonstrate that zone-tillage is agronomically and economically feasible for the row crop rotation used in Eastern Michigan.


Materials and methods:

The Innovative Farmers Project evolved from a USDA Water Quality Demonstration Project designed to reduce the potential for sediment, pesticide and nutrient loading of the surface water in the Eastern Coastal Basin of Saginaw Bay.

Much effort had gone into encouraging the efficient use of fertilizer and pesticides, but sediment was not being addressed as well. The traditional tillage system was "fall plow". As a result, wind erosion occurred over the winter depositing soil in the ditches, which was then "flushed" into the Bay during the spring run-off. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water sampling showed sediment, nutrient and pesticides levels in the surface water that were not acceptable.

There was a reluctance by growers to change their tillage system because of the high value crops being produced. They felt that if they were to change systems, there would be a yield loss which was not acceptable. Sugar beets are worth $35 to $40/ton with a 16 to 22 ton/acre yield range. Dry bean yields range from 12 to 24 cwt./acre and have a typical value of $20 to $24/cwt. They could accept a few bushel loss of corn or soybeans, but not dry beans or sugar beets.

A rural sociologist from the University of Wisconsin also met with our group and outlined 16 reasons that farmers can't or won't adopt conservation tillage practices. Therefore, it was decided to take on a group project and determine if a change in tillage was possible by addressing those barriers.

The members voted to assess themselves $100 per year on an annual basis to show their commitment to the project. Because of the farmers demonstrating their commitment, the group was able to gain the support of 52 sponsoring partners. These include local and regional lending institutions, local agriculture supplies, regional agribusiness representatives, commodity groups, governmental agencies and educational groups.

By involving the entire community, the group hoped to increase the rate of adoption because of the community involvement providing more "support" for the early adopters.

As the project unfolded, it became more than a tillage comparison. It was apparent that the group needed to address the "system". If the system was addressed, the alternative systems would fail. So, the project became an Integrated Cropping Systems Project.

At the time the project was initiated, the Innovative Farmer members insisted that the plots be planted on time, not at the end of the planting window, and that the plots be large enough to drive typical harvesting equipment over.

Therefore, the Innovative Farmers rented two 40-acre sites to conduct their applied research project. Each treatment (plow, chisel, trans-till and zone-till) were replicated three times in each crop study. The plots were a minimum of 16 rows (40 ft.) wide and 540 feet long.

A full line of equipment has been obtained through grants, contributions and leases. This was necessary so that the plots could be planted on time with the proper equipment designed for each system. The field work is accomplished by a Michigan State University Extension Agent and a part-time technician contracted from the Huron County Soil and Water Conservation District. Their job is to follow the plan designed by each working committee as closely as possible. The plans were developed by the groups to maximize each system.

A four-row John Deere 7000 planter is used to plant the plots. The planter has the three-coulter system on all four rows. Liquid fertilizer can be injected behind each of the outside coulters in each row. The lead coulter is a 25-wave one-inch and the outside coulters have a 13-wave one-inch configuration. The group went to more waves because beets are planted at 3.5 to 4 mph and more tillage was needed at the slower speed.

The planter is equipped with three small fertilizer tanks allowing for comparisons of different products. A piston pump is used to supply the fertilizer. Yetter and Martin Row Cleaners are mounted on the planter units and Martin spoke closing wheels are mounted at the back.

A Row-Tech trans-till system is also used to provide an alternative strip-till system. The trans- tiller is a system where two eight-wave coulters per row are mounted on a tool bar. A heavy shank is mounted between each set of coulters to provide deep tillage. The shank can be set at four, six or nine inches depending on the time of year and soil conditions. The trans-tiller can be used just prior to planting with a conventional planter or used in the fall for deeper tillage.

The IF group also has an eight-row 22-inch cart with a planter attached to the back on a three point hitch. Also available are a four-row Hiniker high residue cultivator and an eight-row Alloway high residue cultivator. This year, a four-row band spray unit was added. The bander is set to band over the crop row or to spray Round-Up under hoods between the rows.

The group also has a John Deere Mulch Master, a field sprayer and access to a plow.

The soils (silty clay loams) are typical of the lake bed soils in the area. The soils have a 0-2% slope. The area receives 30 to 32 inches of precipitation on an annual basis with about 16 inches during the growing season. During the 1996 growing season, the plot sites received 21 inches, an abnormally high amount of rainfall.

Soil fertility information and crop input data is shown in the Plot Information Report attached with this report.

Initially, the IF membership was divided into three working groups (corn, dry beans and sugar beets) to plan, design and evaluate the plots. However, this arrangement was not the best for group discussions, as the groups were large (12-15 members) and often one or two members dominated the discussion. In addition, each work group was planning all four systems. As a result, they were planning systems that they were not interested in; and, as Henry Ford said, "If you want something to work, it will; and if you want it to fail, it will."

There were two rotations being studied. The basic rotation was corn, dry beans and sugar beets. At one location, wheat was also included. Therefore, at the start of the second year, the members decided which rotation they wanted to work on and then which tillage system. By developing eight working groups, there is more discussion and more participation in the smaller groups.

To further the group and member interaction, one session each year is devoted to analyzing the year's results. Each working group is asked to determine what worked in their plan, what did not work, what surprised them and what are the changes for next year. Time is allowed for them to discuss the questions. After awhile, they are brought together and asked to share the information between the groups. This process has generated more sharing of ideas, challenging each other and more open discussion and questioning of previous beliefs.

Additional activities have been added to the project to address questions being raised by the members. A number of Michigan State University Extension specialists are assisting by conducting specialized applied research projects in plots adjacent to the basic IF plots.

Specialists are addressing questions dealing with white mold in reduced tillage dry beans, alternative herbicide programs for reduced tillage dry beans, the use of a Soil Doctor, Bt corn, manure application and soil health considerations. Some of this applied research is funded by a variety of outside sources and is part of a larger state-wide project.

Dr. Richard Harwood, Sustainable Agriculture Chair, MSU Crop and Soil Sciences Department, is assisting with the soil health study. Since the project's initial year, soil samples have been taken from the plowed and zone-tilled corn strips at each site. Samples are taken from the 0-4" and 4-12" layers and analyzed. Mineralization measurements are also taken at 10, 30 and 72 day intervals. The complete data is shown in the enclosed booklet.

Based on the third year data, changes are starting to occur in the soil. The organic matter level appears to be increasing in the 4" layer at one site and the C/N ratio is improving. There appears to be some stratification of phosphorus at one site. The site with the lower soil organic matter (1.9-2.1%) is showing the greatest changes. The other site has a much higher soil fertility and organic matter (+/- 3%) which does not seem to be changing as fast.

Water infiltration and bulk density measurements were made for the first time in 1996. Again, there appeared to be more change in the zone-tilled strips at the site with the lower organic matter content. These studies will be continued for two more years.

At the Annual IF Tours, members serve as speakers at the various plots and as tour guides to ensure participants reach the sites on time.

Research results and discussion:

1. Develop high residue sustainable agriculture cropping system for the production of corn, dry beans and sugar beets using reduced tillage, cover crops and a total integrated cropping system to reduce soil erosion and increase farm family income.

After the first year of the project, the members realized that they just could not put the seed into the soil using an alternative tillage equipment and hope for success. They found out that they needed to implement a system. That meant adjusting fertilizer placement, herbicide placement and planting rate. Once that concept was put into practice, the alternative systems generated better results.

Following the initial year, the group switched from eight-wave coulters on the planter to 13-wave coulters. The additional waves were helpful in making a better seedbed at the slower planting speeds. Sugar beets are planted at 3.5 to 4 mph. The eight-wave coulters work well with soybeans or corn when planted at faster speeds. By changing the coulter, the emergence and stands improved.

Another change in the last year was the addition of the Martin spoke closing wheels. The spoke wheels worked the soil one more time and fractured any sidewall compaction that might have occurred. This year, the members noted that with the wetter conditions, sidewall compaction had occurred; but, the wheels had broke it up. There was an excellent seed/soil contact resulting in a very good stand of dry beans.

Using three coulter system and spoke wheels is very important for this part of Michigan. The soils are silty clay loam, tightly compacted, slow to dry and slow to warm up. In the spring, because of water on three sides of the "Thumb", there are many cool cloudy days. We may have dense clouds while 30 miles further south it may be sunny. Therefore, we need to develop a system that fits our soils and weather conditions.

There are also a few myths that need to be clarified. One myth is that dry beans could not be planted into corn stalks and another is that fall plowing must occur prior to planting beets.

In reality, the sugar beet crop has responded better to reduced tillage systems than dry beans. Stand establishment has been good and has been aided by the use of cover crops. Seedling diseases are a problem with sugar beets. The cover crop was very important during the spring of 1996, which was wet and cold. The rye cover crop drew moisture out of the soil allowing for the trans-till and zone-till systems to be planted earlier at the Voelker Site. Since the soil was drier, there was less seedling disease and a better stand was established which produced higher yields.

This is the second year that sugar beets have been planted into cover crops. Wheat, rye and triticale have been tried. Rye has produced good results, but is harder to burn down. Overall it appears that sugar beets can be successfully produced with reduced tillage systems.

One of the main obstacles for dry beans was the herbicide program. Dry beans, being a minor crop, have very few herbicide options. The most commonly used herbicide program relies on pre-plant incorporated products.

The IF group tried a granular application of Eptam and it worked fairly well, if the applicators were properly calibrated. This year, the group applied Eptam and Treflan in a 10-inch band in front of the planter. The herbicide was immediately incorporated with the three coulters. Weed control was excellent with minimal damage to the beans.

No post emergent herbicide was applied at the one site and a band of Basagran was applied one time at the other site. Weed control was effective and done with traditional products applied in a non-traditional manner.

After the first year, the economic data shows that the systems are generating fairly close total net profits. There is variability within the reduced tillage systems, BUT there is also variability in the plow system.

It appears that by using the correct coulters, herbicide and fertilizer placement programs, the reduced tillage systems will work.

In addition, the soil health data is showing that changes are occurring in the soils. Water infiltration, bulk density and carbon/nitrogen ratios are improving.

2. Help policy makers, agency representatives and agribusinesses become part of the solution and limit barriers to the adoption of new technology.

A key part of this project is involving the entire community in the project. Therefore, local lenders, agribusiness suppliers, agriculture industry, governmental groups, environmental groups and legislators have been invited to participate in the project.

Currently, there are 52 sponsoring partners. They have provided financial support, field supplies or equipment. A complete list is enclosed.

It is important for the sponsors to be involved, so that when an IF members decides to make the transition to an alternative system, the technical support will be available. If a farmer tried a new system and it did not work because the wrong equipment was used or the fertilizer was not placed correctly or the wrong weed control program was implemented, the transition would probably not be made.

Last year, the Huron County Board of Commissioners nominated the IF Project for a National Association of Counties Achievement Award.

This year, the IF group, along with the Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) Project sponsored an Agricultural Policy Tour. Twenty-nine legislators, governmental representatives and ag policy representatives attended the tour.

Innovative Farmer members met with the group at five different sites to discuss barriers to change in a number of agriculture practices. Practices discussed were manure management, filter strips, irrigation, wetlands, drain laws, and on-farm fertilizer and petroleum issues. The tour will probably be held next year, as everyone thought it was a good idea.

One barrier to farmers changing tillage system is the fear by landowners that weed control will not be good. There is a perception that alternative systems result in weedy fields, while landowners want clean fields. A farmer may want to change to another tillage system, but cannot afford the loss of their land base for economic reasons, which is a very difficult barrier to overcome. The more the community is involved, the more we will be able to overcome barriers like this.

3. Develop techniques for farmers to learn farmer-to-farmer and for them to be actively involved in the process to find solutions to societal problems.

One of the main focuses of this project is to have the farmers explore alternative cropping systems. A system needed to be developed that would encourage the farmer members to share ideas and take active roles in the planning.

In the first year, the group was divided into three groups: corn, sugar beets and dry beans. The committees were given the responsibility of planning the cropping programs for their crop in all four tillage systems.

Unfortunately, as Henry Ford stated, "If you want something to work, it will; and if you want it to fail, it will." Members were planning systems with limited knowledge that they were not interested in. It is difficult for farmers who have always plowed to plan a zone-till system. Also, it was easy to "hide" in large groups with one or two individuals occupying the discussions.

Therefore, in the second year, the group was divided into rotations. One rotation included wheat and the other did not. They then decided which system they wanted to work on within their rotation. Eight committees were formed.

The groups were smaller and were working only on the system that they wanted to. As a result, better planning was put into place. More discussion occurred within the groups and everyone felt more involved. At the end of each meeting, time was allowed for the different committees to share their ideas with the other groups.

We are now engaging in more detailed discussions. The groups are asking questions between groups, and individuals from different parts of the county are talking after the meetings. The system appears to be working.

At the last two Annual Innovative Farmer Tours, over 20 members have served as speakers or tour guides. They present information on the plots. They have become more aware of what is happening at the sites, and as a result, are more comfortable with the systems.

In addition, the Huron County IF group has hosted farmers from Ontario for a visit to their sites. This year, the IF group sponsored a bus tour to Ontario. Farmers from other Michigan IF groups and six counties participated in the tour. The bus trip promoted the sharing of ideas.

We are trying to move the members out of their safety net and on to different ways of thinking. With the change in committee arrangement, tours and newsletters, more sharing is occurring.

4. Reduce the dependency upon commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the production of high value field crops, such as sugar beets and dry beans.

The Innovative Farmers Project has allowed the group to look at a number of cost saving practices in greater detail.

In 1995, the "Zone-Till" group wanted to apply all of their nitrogen at planting. The other groups decided to follow a sidedress soil nitrate test. As a result, the other groups, plow, chisel and trans-till, generated 149 to 155 bu./acre with 80 lbs. of nitrogen. The zone-till group's plot produced a yield of 153 bu./acre with 170 lbs. of nitrogen.

In 1996, plot comparisons again showed that the sidedress nitrate program generated a three bushel increase over the full rate nitrogen plot.

These two plots continue to verify the value of the sidedress nitrate program. Several members started to use the sidedress test this year.

The dry bean programs were changed this year to use banded, rather than broadcast applications, of herbicides. The herbicides were banded in front of the planter and incorporated with the three coulters. This system worked very well and combined with cultivations resulted in excellent weed control. The plots showed that it could be done.

The groups are following Michigan State University soil test recommendations. As a result, only nitrogen is used at one site and the yields are being maintained. At the second site, where the soil fertility is lower, nitrogen and potash have been applied, but no starter phosphorus.

This year, there was interest in a complete liquid starter being applied directly to the seed to serve as a pop-up fertilizer, even on the high testing soils. Several comparisons were set up and the data shows it did not work. Six replications of 3.4 gallons of an 8-19-3 vs control showed that the control plots had a yield of 154.9 bu./acre while the treated plots averaged 154.3 bu./acre. In addition, the 3.4 gallons had a cost of $9.73/acre.

These are examples of plot work showing that the Michigan State University soil test recommendations work. Farmers are always questioning the recommendations and are concerned about the risk of not applying enough fertilizer. Hopefully, these plots will help the farmers become more confident in the recommendations, as they were involved in planning the plots.

5. Demonstrate that zone-tillage is agronomically and economically feasible for the row crop rotation used in Eastern Michigan.

The question being addressed is, "Can a rotation of dry beans, sugar beets and corn be produced using reduced tillage techniques and be economically viable and competitive with the traditional plow system?" Based on three years of data, the answer appears to be "yes".

There was and is concern that the high value crops (sugar beets and dry beans) cannot be produced successfully in reduced tillage systems. The data in Appendix C illustrates that over the three years, the chisel system appears to generate the highest net profit. The plow system is second with trans-till and zone-till following closely. There is not a great deal of difference between the plow, trans-till and zone-till.

The most profitable tillage system is the chisel system over the three years of the project. There is a large gap to the other systems, and the plow, trans-till and zone-till are fairly close to each other. Some of the difference in economic returns is due to individual practices the members initiated or failed to implement.

For instance, the zone-till group decided to apply all their nitrogen at planting, while the others utilized the soil nitrate-N soil test. The result was that the zone-till group over applied nitrogen by 90 lbs. costing them $30/acre. A lesson was learned about implementing a "system".

The members hope that over time the yields will actually start to increase in the reduced tillage systems as the soil quality improves.

Research conclusions:

The initial purpose for this project was to reduce wind erosion from unprotected fields. Based on the residue checks, the alternative conservation tillage systems are reducing the soil loss potential by as much as four tons/acre per year. At a value of $3 to $6/ton, that has the potential for saving the farmer $18/acre per year ($4.50 X 4 ton). The $3 to $6 figure is based on soil fertility, organic matter and basic soil in a ton.

There are 535,000 acres of cropland in the Eastern Coastal Basin of the Saginaw Bay. A savings of $18/acre can result in an overall savings of $9,630,000 per year. Huron County, which represents one-half of the basin, spends $1.5 million per year in ditch clean outs. There is a potential savings from keeping the soil in the field.

The project has also demonstrated that sidedress soil nitrate testing works. For the Thumb Area, based on 623 soil samples analyzed in 1996, there was an average of $13/acre savings based on soil N credits.

One of the major efforts has been to involve the entire community. Through this project, equipment dealers have a better idea of what equipment should be sold to make the systems work. Fertilizer and herbicide supplies understand how to put the programs together to ensure better results. That is a benefit to the community.

Economic Analysis

Records are kept on each plot separately and entered into the MAX: Economic Analysis Computer Program for comparison. Complete, treatment by treatment, records are attached in Appendix C. A summary of the three-year data is provided in Chart 1.

Based on the data, the conservation tillage systems are economically competitive. The first year's result were not as positive; but, during the last two years, the group adjusted their production programs and the results have been much more positive. Therefore, if the question is, "Can we produce a rotation of dry beans, sugar beets and corn utilizing reduced tillage systems and be economically competitive?"; the answer appears to be "yes".

The trans-till system did not do as well this year at the Shaw site because of heavy rains after planting resulting in poor beet stands. The trans-tilled strip served as trenches and water ponding was a serious problem. While there is some inconsistency in the reduced tillage systems, there is also inconsistency in the plow system. The alternative systems are improving the soil's tilth and reducing erosion. From a community standpoint, that is important.

Farmer Adoption

As stated earlier, the members do the planning and evaluation of the plots. Therefore, the project is being designed to address their concerns and the data will be acceptable to them.

Innovative Farmer Tours have drawn over 200 participants in each of the last three years. Membership has grown from 47 in the first year to 81 this year. Information is shared through a quarterly newsletter with 236 subscribers in eight counties.

One of the first changes noted is that the members are taking a greater interest in the plots this year. During the initial year, they would visit the plots, but look into the plots from the ends of the rows. This year, they are in the fields, digging in the soil, and taking a much closer look than in previous years.

In the last year, a number of IF members have started to adopt alternative cropping system practices. Among the changes are the following examples:

- One member is now planting corn and dry beans in twin seven-inch rows and interseeding clover between the corn rows for additional cover, improved soil tilth and a natural nitrogen source.

- A member and his sons built a zone-till planter last winter to address problems they have encountered over the past few years in trying to adopt to zone-till. Neighbors and the member himself noted that they have the best crops in years. Many of the special features on the planter were ideas tested on the IF plots.

- One father/son partnership purchased a zone-till zone-builder and a zone-till cart this spring. They wanted to reduce erosion on their fields and improve soil tilth.

- One member along with his brother have changed their entire cropping system to zone-till and no-till to reduce compaction and improve soil tilth. They farm 6,000 acres.

- Three members tried narrow row (22") zone-till this year with very good results.

Involvement of the Audiences:

As stated earlier, over 200 people have attended each of the IF tours over the last three years. In addition, an Agriculture Policy Tour was conducted by the members to look at barriers that prevent the adoption of new technology. IF members shared their concerns and ideas about how barriers might be removed to help speed grower adoption. They also shared their experiences on adopting new technology with the tour participants.

Twenty-nine representatives of government agencies, policy groups and education institutions attended the Policy Tour. They met with farmers to discuss manure utilization, filter strip, irrigation, wetlands, drain laws, and on-farm fertilizer and petroleum issues. This dialogue was useful and productive. Another tour will be held next year and an effort will be made to involve environmental groups.

Twilight tours were offered at each of the applied research sites during the growing season. Four meetings were also held during the winter with an average attendance of 40 members present. The members shared their ideas, asked questions and worked together to make the systems work better. Some ideas included changing fertilizer and herbicide placement, changing herbicide programs and changing cover crops. It is up to the grower members to develop the systems and they are accomplishing this goal by working together.

At the Innovative Farmer Tours, members serve as speakers at each plot site. They share information on tillage, cropping program and economic results. The members also serve as tour guides to ensure the tour participants reach the right sites on time. They also provide their insights and ideas during the tour.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Presentations have been made at 21 different locations to over 1,500 people over the last two years. Several Michigan State University Extension Agents have asked an IF representative to conduct presentations to farmers in their counties. As a result, three Innovative Farmers groups have been formed in other areas of the state.

Presentations were made at Michigan Sugar Company Grower Meetings in five different parts of the growing area. Presentations were also made to the Great Lakes No-Till Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana; National Soil and Water Conservation Society Meetings; a Regional EPA/MI Department of Environmental Quality Meeting; the Michigan Drain Commissioners Annual Meeting and other MSU-Extension programs.

A newsletter was established during the last year with financial support from the Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems Project. The quarterly newsletter is sent to 236 subscribers. In addition, a special newsletter was printed and distributed at the 1996 Michigan State University Ag Expo (agricultural trade show) in cooperation with the Michigan Corn Growers exhibit.

The MIFFS Project also provided funding for an Innovative Farmers exhibit which has been used at a number of agricultural trade shows and educational programs.

The Innovative Farmers Project has been featured in two monthly Michigan Farm Bureau News publications; The Pioneer NewsBeet Magazine; The Sugar Beet Grower Magazine, which is distributed to all beet growers in the United States and Canada; and The Michigan Natural Resources Magazine. The IF Project was also featured in reports published by the Coast Alliance and World Wildlife Fund.

The Innovative Farmers group has affiliated with the Innovative Farmers of Ontario Association and information is shared back and forth.

The Saginaw Bay Water Quality Project has distributed 15,000 Impact Statements to landowners in the project area. The IF Project was prominently promoted in the publication.


Funding was received from the Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) Project, which is 1 of 17 Integrated Farming Systems Program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Innovative Farmers were selected to be one of the several Michigan MIFFS sites. The IF group was awarded $12,000 over two years for dissemination of information and developing leadership within the Innovative Farmers Group. The Innovative Farmers newsletter was developed, printed and distributed with the MIFFS funding. Below is a list of Innovative Farmer Newsletters distributed over the past year.

Innovation News

Issue 1 January, 1996
Issue 2 February, 1996
Issue 3 April, 1996
Issue 4 May, 1996
"Special Issue" June, 1996
Issue 5 July, 1996


The Innovative Farmers Project was featured in the following publications and articles:

"Evaluating Alternative Production Systems." Dick Lehnert, editor and writer, Michigan Agriculture Stewardship Association's The Land Steward Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1; February 1996; page 8.

"Focus on Success: Innovative Farmers of Huron County." Jim LeCureux, Michigan State University Extension Agricultural Agent; Well Written: A Newsletter on Groundwater Issues of Deep Importance", Vol. 2, page 1, summer issue; M. Charles Gould, editor, District Groundwater Agent, Michigan State University Extension.

"Innovative Farmer Update." Jim LeCureux, Michigan State University Extension Agricultural Agent; Pioneer NewsBeet; Spring 1996; page 25.

"Michigan's Green Thumb." Jim LeCureux, Michigan State University Extension Agricultural Agent; The Leading Edge, Vol. 4, No. 1, page 2; Yetter Manufacturing Co.

"Michigan Growers Examine High Residue Cropping Systems." Jim LeCureux, Michigan State University Extension Agricultural Agent; The Sugar Beet Grower Magazine; February 1996; page 28.

"Reducing Reliance on Pesticides - The Case of the Great Lakes." Global Pesticide Campaigner, World Wildlife Fund; Polly Hoppin, Richard Liroff and Michelle Miller; March 1996; Vol.C No. 1.

"Reducing Reliance on Pesticides in Great Lakes Basin." World Wildlife Fund; page 9.

"State of the Coasts." Coast Alliance; Jerry Sullivan, Beth Milleman, Annie Griffenberg; June 1995; pages 145-146.

"The Color of Our Waters." Terri Novak; Michigan Natural Resources Magazine; October 1995; page 36.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

During the 1996 cropping system, the group started water infiltration and bulk density studies on the plowed and zone-tilled tillage strips in the corn plots. It appears that changes are starting to occur after three years. Graphs and data are included in the Annual Plot Result Booklet. With Dr. Richard Harwood's assistance and guidance, this aspect of the program will be expanded to the other crops in 1997. We want to see what the infiltration and bulk densities are prior to and after sugar beets. Corn follows sugar beets and we need to obtain a better idea about the impact of sugar beets on the soil.

More work needs to be done on establishing cover crops following dry beans and beets. The beets are harvested late during October. At that time of year, it's hard to get a crop established and emerged to provide adequate cover.

There is concern about the affect of reduced tillage on suppressing or increasing white mold. The group will be working with Pat Hart, Plant Pathologist, Michigan State University, to determine if residue does suppress white mold.

The group will continue to work on combining narrow row technology with the zone-till system. Since half of the sugar beets grown in the area are produced in 22-inch rows, there is a need to merge the two systems.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.