In-Service Training in Sustainable Agriculture and Agricultural Ecology for NRCS Personnel and Partners

1996 Annual Report for ENC96-017

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Lawrence Dyer
Kellogg Biological Station / Extension

In-Service Training in Sustainable Agriculture and Agricultural Ecology for NRCS Personnel and Partners


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, 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 to provide training in ecological principles as they apply to agriculture.

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 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 a MSU Extension Bulletin, "Michigan Field Crop Ecology: Managing biological processes for productivity and environmental quality." The first program involved an intensive two-day session of technical training followed by a session in which the trainees became trainers and began planning programs for 1999. The resulting training programs that took place were well attended.

During most of the project it was difficult for people within NRCS to commit time for sustainable agriculture programming. People expressed interest and were receptive to new ideas, but participation in program activities was low. Farm bill demands were very high for the duration of this project. Technical training around any topic was minimal. Participation in the Michigan Field Crop Ecology training programs 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.

North Central Region SARE 1998 Annual Report.