Integrated System for Sustainability of High Value Field Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $73,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $92,883.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
James LeCureux
Michigan State University Extension

Annual Reports

Information Products


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


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management, traps
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health


    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables and figures that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or]

    The Innovative Farmers of Huron County (IF) were organized in early 1994 for the purpose of developing alternative cropping systems that reduce erosion, improve soil quality and reduce investment while maintaining the family farm's income.

    The members have assessed themselves an annual membership fee of $100 each. Initially, there were 47 members in 1994 and the membership has grown to 81 in 1996. Some of the membership is from nearby counties and three other IF groups have been formed following the Huron County model.

    Members are divided into eight working groups to plan, design and evaluate four tillage systems (fall plow, fall chisel, trans-till and zone-till) being used to produce a corn, dry bean and sugar beet rotation. Two 40-acre parcels have been rented by the IF group where randomized and replicated .5 acre plots are being used to develop these systems.

    Yields generated in the first year (1994) exhibited a large gap between the traditional fall plow and chisel systems vs the trans-till and zone-till systems. The members at the winter meetings, became more aggressive, brushed aside some of the existing myths and have created systems that are highly competitive in 1995 and 1996. Because of the adjustments made in the systems, the yield gap has been closed with the two strip-till systems out yielding the traditional systems in some cases.

    During the past two years, the IF group met several times with guest speakers including Ray Rawson, Rawson Zone-Till System developer; John Anibel, a Michigan farmer involved in site- specific agriculture; and farmers from Scandinavia. The World Wildlife Fund sponsored the group from Scandinavia. A representative of the IF group was invited to participate in a press conference on "Capitol Hill" that dealt with the release of a report on the "State of Nation's Coast" by the Coast Alliance.

    In addition, the Annual Innovative Farmers Tours have resulted in over 200 farmers, government agency and environmental group representatives visiting the IF plots in each of the last two years. The group has been featured in a number of State and National publications. Changes are starting to occur on individual farms and this program is providing the impetus for that change.

    The Innovative Farmers Project is also unique in that 52 agribusinesses, commodity groups, government agencies and lending institutions have provided equipment, supplies and financial support.

    Members are taking ideas generated at the IF sites and utilizing them on their farms. Members are building their own zone-till planters, planting crops in twin seven-inch rows and interseeding between rows, starting to use zone-till equipment on their own farms and adapting zone-till to narrow row (22") production.

    A rural sociologist identified 16 reasons farmers can't or won't adopt conservation tillage and the Innovative Farmers Project is geared to address those issues.

    Project objectives:

    1. Develop high residue sustainable agriculture cropping system for the production of corn, dry beans and sugar beets using reduced tillage, cover crops and a total integrated cropping system to reduce soil erosion and increase farm family income.

    2. Help policy makers, agency representatives and agribusinesses become part of the solution and limit barriers to the adoption of new technology.

    3. Develop techniques for farmers to learn farmer-to-farmer and for them to be actively involved in the process to find solutions to societal problems.

    4. Reduce the dependency upon commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the production of high value field crops, such as sugar beets and dry beans.

    5. Demonstrate that zone-tillage is agronomically and economically feasible for the row crop rotation used in Eastern Michigan.

    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.