Self-Directed Participatory Agent Learning
Objectives of this project include:
1) Expand the basic sustainable agriculture knowledge of Michigan agriculturists (farmers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Extension, agri-business) by presenting six regional trainings on field crop ecology, presented by a core group of trained agents, NRCS personnel and/or other trained people.
2) Continue and enhance learning through 10 local sustainable agriculture innovation teams conducting on-farm projects involving Extension agents, farmers, NRCS staff and others, to gain practical knowledge and leadership for widespread adoption of more sustainable approaches.
3) Use Michigan's Field Crops Area of Expertise (AoE) team as a clearinghouse to compile local invention team and agent experiences for sharing with other agents and NRCS staff, and draw upon AoE team resources to support local efforts.
4) Expand interaction between Extension agents and sustainable/organic practitioners through greater agent involvement in farmer organizations, projects and events.
The Michigan State University Field Crops Area of Expertise Team (AOE) consists of 24 county agents and campus faculty working together to provide local and statewide training for themselves, agri-business personnel, NRCS and farmers. This third year of funding through the PDP program has allowed for the continuation of eight projects, the creation of new projects, and in-depth training in Michigan Field Crop Ecology.
The SARE funds were allocated to 13 projects across the state, pursuant to the agent/farmer needs and cropping systems of our diverse state. A major goal of this project is the responsibility of each agent to report back on their project to the entire AoE team at an annual December training session. This alone has created accountability and cross programming and improved communications between agents on projects.
Another portion of the funds went to the planning and implementation of training, utilizing a newly published Michigan Field Crop Ecology. This has been a wonderful tool to coalesce basic biological principles and real world farming practices. An initial training was conducted in two locations of the state, reaching mostly Extension and NRCS. The following season, 214 producers were reached in six locations, including a Kodec uplink to reach the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula. Sixty percent of the participants identified themselves as "traditional" farmers, which is the audience we were seeking. Thirty-nine percent indicated they would use the information to make changes in their farming operation. This project was coordinated by Dale Mutch and Larry Dyer.
A parallel project is continuing with the outreach efforts of Doug Landis and his work on beneficial insects. His original training efforts were very well received with his mix of insect specimens in the lab, outdoor teaching and web-based curriculum.
Using locally based projects continues to be a training tool for both new and experienced extension agents. Thirteen locally based projects meet the needs of the farmers and their unique cropping needs. One project, by Mark Seamon, has brought attention to the soybean cyst nematodes in an area of the state that was incurring damage but unaware of the impacts.
The northern portion of Michigan relies on forages for grazing and dry harvest. Rich Leep introduced plots in 8 locations (four on farm) to evaluate kura clover into the cropping and grazing systems. Other projects continue to evaluate cutting management on alfalfa quality, reduced tillage in narrow row grain production, site-specific management education to farmers, adding liquid alum to swine manure, cover crops in rotations, alternative crops to meet local opportunities through value-added education and a continuation of organic bean and grain production.
For more information:
Michigan State University Extension
315 W. Green St.
Marshall, MI 49068