Enhancing Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture Practices via Farmer-Driven Research

Project Overview

LNC97-112
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $100,405.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $100,405.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Dale Mutch
Michigan State University Extension

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, oats, rye, soybeans, spelt, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, competition, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health

    Abstract:

    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes graphic 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 ncrsare@unl.edu.]

    We invited farmers, researchers and MSU Extension personnel to participate in teams to develop a research agenda that directly addresses farmer needs, and to participate in extension programs. The team designed a cropping system study to investigate soil quality and weed community changes during transition to low-input and organic systems. We have begun transition of 8 acres of research ground to organic. Four farmers spoke to an audience of farmers about cover crops in a program at KBS. We organized a train-the-trainer program (18 agency participants) and four regional programs (213 participants) in field crop ecology.

    Objectives:
    1. Establish a farmer-driven design team for researching organic farming systems at MSU/KBS for Southwest Michigan.
    2. Establish a farmer-driven design team for researching low-input farming systems at MSU/KBS for Southwest Michigan.
    3. Evaluate the feasibility of growing organic corn without animal manure.
    4. Disseminate information and facilitate distance learning with electronic communications technology.
    5. Host a statewide “Farmer to Farmer” program focusing on cover crops at MSU/KBS and three other regional alternative agriculture programs.

    Methods/Approach: Our methodology has been to involve farmers directly in research decision-making processes and extension activities. Project goals are to develop a research agenda that directly addresses farmer needs, encourage collaboration among farmers and researchers, and provide a forum where farmers can learn from other farmers. We invited farmers, researchers and MSU Extension personnel to participate in two research design teams. Design team members participated in a “Farmer to Farmer� extension program and four field crop ecology programs.

    Results: At design team meetings we discussed the farmer’s research needs. The dominant topics that emerged in both the low-input and organic team discussions were whole-system weed management, soil quality, and a whole-system approach to research. To address some of these issues, the design teams developed protocols for a cropping system comparison to investigate changes during transition to organic and low-input field crop systems. We are measuring aspects of soil quality, including wet aggregate stability, bulk density, particulate organic matter, and soil microarthropods, and changes in the weed community over time. Economic analysis will include labor and energy costs. In addition to the rotation study, we have three plots (8 acres) in transition to organic. We have submitted our application to the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). We’ve been inspected twice, and certification is pending.

    KBS hosted a statewide “Farmer to Farmer� program in February 1998, entitled “Can you use cover crops? Straight talk from the farm down the road.� Four farmers spoke to an audience of farmers about their farming systems. In a collaborative effort with another SARE PDP project, we hosted a “train the trainer� program in Michigan Field Crop Ecology for seven NRCS, nine MSU Extension and 2 Michigan Department of Agriculture employees. The participants of this program planned four one-day regional Michigan Field Crop Ecology programs that took place in January 1999, for 213 participants, including 92 agency employees.

    Impacts and Potential contributions: The insight and guidance offered by the design teams has changed our research, especially by enabling us to do organic research. Having research ground in transition to organic certification is unprecedented at MSU.

    The field crop ecology programs exposed 18 agency personnel and 213 other participants across Michigan, to an ecological way of thinking about agriculture. The resulting dialogue is a necessary first step in making the paradigm shift from the conventional industrial model to an alternative ecological model of agriculture.

    Project objectives:

    1. Establish a farmer-driven design team for researching organic farming systems at MSU/KBS for Southwest Michigan.

    2. Establish a farmer-driven design team for researching low-input farming systems at MSU/KBS for Southwest Michigan.

    3. Evaluate the feasibility of growing organic corn without animal manure.

    4. Disseminate information and facilitate distance learning with electronic communications technology.

    5. Host a statewide “Farmer to Farmer� program focusing on cover crops at MSU/KBS, and three regional programs on alternative agriculture.

    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.