Michigan Field Crop Ecology: Training and Field Demonstrations

1998 Annual Report for ENC98-029

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $47,677.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Natalie Rector
MSU Extension

Michigan Field Crop Ecology: Training and Field Demonstrations


Objectives of this project include:

1) Continue and enhance learning through 10 recently created local sustainable agriculture innovation teams, involving Extension agents, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff and others, to gain knowledge and leadership for widespread adoption of more sustainable approaches.

2) Use Michigan's Field Crops Area of Expertise (AoE) team as a clearinghouse to compile local innovation team and agent experiences for sharing with other agents and NRCS staff, and draw upon AoE team resources to support local efforts.

3) Expand interaction between Extension agents and sustainable/organic practitioners through greater agent involvement in farmer organization projects and events and expanded conference call and e-mail networking.

4) Provide three, two-day regional training sessions that utilize Michigan sustainable agriculture training modules, local team experiences, farmer mentors, and input from other applicable SARE-supported projects.

5) Continue building competencies in a core group of 10 to 15 Extension field crop agents so they can become trainers of other trainers and resource people to encourage greater adoption of sustainable concepts, systems and practices within their areas and statewide.

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 state-wide training for themselves, agri-business personnel and farmers.

This second year of PDP funding for the AoE team has provided consistency of some projects and start up funds for new projects. Three major areas of endeavor include: 1) local on-farm learning projects between agents and farmers, 2) Agro Ecology training for agents and NRCS, and 3) the sharing of these experiences through the total AoE team system.

The majority of the SARE funds were reallocated to 18 projects across the state, pursuant to the agent/farmer needs and the 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, cross programming, improved communications between agents on projects they were unaware of, and the obvious multiplication of sharing what one agent learns with many others.

Four of the local projects funding in the ‘96-97 season were expanded and continued in this season of funding. The organic grain and bean production network that began in Gratiot County by Dan Rossman, has continued to grow and inspired three agents in the southwest region of Michigan to take 18 people on an in-state tour of organic farms. This project watches a "traditional" agriculture agent successfully generate respect from diverse areas of agriculture.

Another agriculture agent has had a significant experience, causing him to value the benefits of sustainable practices. While seeking to incorporate frost seeded clover into high yielding wheat, Steve Poindexter and his farmers have seen first hand the impact on the succeeding corn yields, increasing yields 13 bushel, and surprisingly, to the second year of sugar beets creating a 0.2 to 1.2 ton increase in beet yields. A second project in the "thumb" of Michigan, by Jim LeCureux, has also been demonstrating tillage and cover crop interactions on heavy clay soils, lacking the return of organic matter in their typical cropping rotations.

Alfalfa is a major crop in Michigan and three projects have provided training on the crop. One has demonstrated the value of scouting for leafhoppers, even in the new "hairy" varieties. Another project has demonstrated no-till and conventional tillage for re-establishment of stands, and timely cutting for nutritional quality.

Alternative crops have received a boost from SARE funds. One group of agents and farmers in the Upper Peninsula visited a research station in Wisconsin. Another group held a "Canola Summit" for 40 people with a valuable resource packet, and another agent looked at irrigated sugar beets to replace the loss of potato contracts due to a chipping plant closing.

Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) may seem an odd mix with sustainable practices, but two agents teamed up this technology with weed control, looking at spot spraying perennial weed patches thus reducing herbicides and demonstrating Roundup-ready technology and the importance that early shading of weeds provides for weed control in soybeans.

A project between field crop, dairy and livestock agents has reached more than 30 farmers with manure testing. It has shown that there is not as much variability within a given manure pit (from top to bottom) as believed. It has also shown that, especially for swine finishing barns, phosphorous levels are lower than book values, thus determining spreading rates for farmers.

All of the above projects have a strong farmer component, either being on-farm demonstrations or involving farmers in the planning, implementing and evaluation of the systems. All projects were shared with the entire AoE team at a December training session.

MSU recently published the 118-page Michigan Field Crop Ecology. An emphasis is to extend this information out to agricultural producers. Two workshops were conducted in September and October 1998 to teach MSU Extension, NRCS and others the basic principles. Six of the authors facilitated a initial training. This training has been greatly expanded.

For more information:
Natalie Rector
Michigan State University Extension
315 W. Green St.
Marshall, MI 49068
616-781-0768 (fax)
[email protected]