Participatory Learning Between Farms and Field Crop Area of Expertise Team Members

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $48,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Federal Funds: $16,200.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $16,200.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Natalie Rector
MSU Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, sugarbeets, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Pest Management: biological control, flame, integrated pest management, precision herbicide use
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health


    Michigan State University has several Area of Expertise (AoE) teams covering the state with the field crops team comprised of 24 multi-county extension agents and 16 campus faculty all working to provide local and state wide coverage to field crop producers and industries in the state.
    Agents and specialists developed local learning teams, around a subject of interest and importance to their area, and were funded under the umbrella SARE PDP grant that the team received. From this evolved 13 diverse projects, involving local agents, campus faculty and local farmer partners. These teams accomplished such learning activities as: *5 local discussion group meetings on organic production and marketing which lead to an in state tour of 7 farms and a tour of 40 producers visiting Illinois and Iowa sustainable farmers. This project has created a dialogue between organic and traditional farmers that is most noteworthy. *Several tours visited a narrow row site plot and two educational sessions were held on the subject of narrow row systems (30″ compared to 22″ or 15″). *A large plot tour included stops to visit an alternative crop garden of 7 species (sunflower, industrial rapeseed, flax, cuphea, canola, safflower) and soil quality measurements under reduced tillage where participants could see the soil structure differences. *Two agents worked with farmers to better understand manure nutrients compared to purchased fertilizers. *A computer assisted manure management model was taught at 11 different locations for agents and farmers. *GPS “tagging” of weed species at harvest lead to management strategies for perennial weeds. *A project on rotational grazing tackled the typical, yet challenging, poorly drained fields that many beef cows are pastured on to find plant species compatible with the soil.

    In-field demonstration plots with farmers included: organic soybean varieties compared for yield, protein and seed size; narrow row production systems in navy beans and sugar beets; clover interseeded into high management wheat in five different locations showed the clover would survive in thick wheat stands and did not hurt wheat yields; new technology crops and herbicides showed the weed control and economic impact of these systems; and inter-cropping oats into adzuki beans demonstrated naturally reducing potato leaf hopper damage.

    A traditional agronomy in-service training was expanded to a two day event where each project reported back to the entire AoE Field Crops team with evaluations of the event being very positive. Not only has one agent learned more about a sustainable system but now all the AoE team members have been exposed to the projects. Each agent will then take these experiences back to many other farmers in many counties in the state. This provided an opportunity for the agents to gather their data into a presentation, which several indicated they will use to re-teach others at local extension meetings. Observing the agents’ and specialists’ presentations also provided some less tangible evaluation data such as enthusiasm, initiative, teamwork and ownership in learning by the individuals. Several projects have clearly demonstrated linkages that are bringing sustainable systems into the forefront of crop production and marketing in Michigan.

    Project objectives:

    To develop small teams of local innovators (farmers, Extension agents, NRCS) personnel and others knowledgable in sustainable agriculture who will become highly skilled in key aspects of sustainable field crop systems, providing knowledge and leadership for widespread adoption of those practices. At a minimum, each team will include one agent, one farmer and one other local persons.

    Translating the experiences of the local teams through area of expertise agents, NRCS personnel and through exisiting networks will multiply sustainable agricultural programs on a local and state-wide basis.

    Farmers and Extension agents will increase their awareness of new learning and teaching skills via hands on experiences and workshops.

    Network with NCR SARE PDP projects and utilize their training materials.

    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.