- Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animal Production: grazing - rotational, feed/forage
- Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
- Education and Training: study circle
- Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, whole farm planning
- Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
- Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: partnerships
Objectives of the project were to: (1) Enhance the understanding of ecological principles and their application to agricultural ecosystems, (2) develop skills in on-farm research, and (3) train agricultural ecology trainers among Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel and partners, and (4) strengthen links and encourage collaborative efforts with Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) and the Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association (MASA) to promote an ecosystem approach to agriculture.
A central theme of the project has been to understand agricultural systems as ecosystems. The approach has been to work collaboratively with NRCS employees and their partners, especially MSUE and MASA, to provide training in ecological principles as they apply to agriculture. The project coordinator was housed at NRCS from March 1996 to March 1998.
Conservation planning is the primary technical assistance responsibility of NRCS. Most of the project activities were aimed at incorporating an ecosystem approach to agriculture into conservation planning. This involved efforts at whole farm planning, including an Ontario Environmental Farm Plan workshop. Managed Rotational Grazing was an important area of collaboration between NRCS, MSUE, MASA and other partners. Several activities involved technical training in aspects of agricultural ecology. One was a field day at the MSU Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in which MSU researchers discussed research in the Long-Term Ecological Research Project, the Living Field Laboratory and the KBS Cover Crops Program. Another field day, "Enhancing Biological Pest Control with Filter Strips," presented results of some on-farm research along with information about filter strips and other conservation practices. Some of the most encouraging results of this project came in training programs in Michigan Field Crop Ecology. These training programs were developed around MSU Extension Bulletin E-2646, "Michigan Field Crop Ecology: Managing biological processes for productivity and environmental quality." The first program involved an intensive two-day session of technical training on September 9-10, followed by a session on October 1, 1998 in which the trainees became trainers and began planning programs for 1999. The resulting training programs that took place in January 1999 were well attended by NRCS, the Michigan Department of Agriculture, and farmers.
During most of the project it was difficult for people within the agency to commit time for sustainable agriculture programming. People expressed interest and were receptive to new ideas, but participation in program activities was consistently low. Farm bill demands were very high for NRCS for the duration of this project, from March 1996 to March 1998, and training was dominated by farm bill programs. Technical training around any topic was minimal. Participation in the Michigan Field Crop Ecology training programs from March 1998 to January 1999 have been more encouraging. Michigan NRCS leadership appears now to be placing higher priority on technical training, and have expressed interest in incorporating agricultural ecology concepts into conservation planning. There is still a need to incorporate sustainable agriculture and ecological concepts into the training regime and culture of the agency.
1. Enhance the understanding of ecological principles and their application to agricultural ecosystems.
2. Develop skills in on-farm research.
3. Train agricultural ecology trainers among Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel and partners.
4. Strengthen links and encourage collaborative efforts with Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) and Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association (MASA) to promote an ecosystem approach to agriculture.