Category Archives: Farming

Tools for employees having controversial conversations surrounding GMOs

corn field

According to a Pew Research Center report, “the way Americans eat has become a source of potential social, economic and political friction as people follow personal preferences reflecting their beliefs about how foods connect with their health and ailments.”

As Michigan State University’s (MSU) connection with Michigan residents, MSU Extension professionals are increasingly engaged in conversations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But in a survey conducted by our program evaluation specialist Cheryl Eschbach, only 37 percent of Extension survey respondents felt capable of replying to GMO-related questions with science-based information, and only 1 percent felt extremely capable.

Recognizing a need, Ron Bates, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute (AABI) director, brought together a cross-institute committee to develop a training for MSU Extension professionals. The result was a two-day training, “Getting your GMO Questions Answered 101,” offered January 8-9, 2018. MSU faculty and Extension professionals shared presentations on research and technology as well as communicating with clientele about GMOs with over 100 Extension staff members.

“It was a really great workshop,” Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator Jeannine Schweihofer said. “I think it helped me to hear viewpoints from different aspects and concerns that people have about GMOs. Getting the right information out there so people have it is really important.”

“The GMO workshop increased my understanding, and that will help me to confidently answer consumer questions about GMO foods that arise during my food safety programs,” MSU Extension health and nutrition educator Beth Waitrovich said.

Ron Goldy, MSU Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator and event committee chair, felt the event was successful in opening up dialogue and providing tools to talk to MSU Extension clientele, especially during the interactive activities.

This workshop was designed to be the first of many opportunities to provide MSU Extension professionals with resources and to open up dialogues.

“We’re hoping that people from other institutes will take the idea back, and that institute will develop a program with their clientele’s concerns in mind,” Ron said. “There will be further trainings within AABI, and we’re trying to figure that out as well. As soon as we hear back from the event evaluations, we’ll decide on the next steps.”

Additionally, the committee is working on creating an online space to make the documents and presentations from the workshop available to all Extension employees.

I would like to thank the team of people who made the event possible: Ron Bates, Betsy Braid, Erin Carter, Julia Darnton, James DeDecker, Mary Dunckel, Cheryl Eschbach, Theodore Ferris, Elizabeth Ferry, Ron Goldy, Rebecca Grumet, Courtney Hollender, Rebecca Krans, Joyce McGarry, George Silva, Lisa Treiber, Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler. I’d also like to thank all of the speakers and presenters throughout the event.

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, communication, Events, Farming, Food, health, Health and Nutrition, professional development, Resources

Gearing up for Ag Innovation Day 2017

Our second annual Michigan State University (MSU) Agriculture Innovation Day is almost here. The event takes place August 24 at our Lake City Research Center. The theme this year is Focus on Forages and the Future. I hope that you’ll spread the word about this program, and I would like to invite you to join us as well. There’s a great line-up designed to deliver a cutting-edge, in-depth look at forages, livestock and the future to help farmers meet growing demands.

Here are the sessions that will be offered:

  • Making the Most of Reduced-Lignin Alfalfa in Your Operation
  • Precision is the Division in Silage
  • Expand Your Use With Double-Cropping
  • Precision Dairy Cattle Monitoring
  • Finding the Right Mix for Soil Health
  • Baleage Made Tight, Made Right
  • Creating Profitable Beef Operations by Managing Land, Livestock and People
  • Grass-Fed Beef – Research and Experience
  • Is Your Land Regenerating?

Another important element of the day is that MSU will send recruiters to the event to provide students with information about all of the degrees available through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We want to engage our next generation of farmers and producers, and give them the tools they need to meet the challenges they will face in the future.

We’ll also have an opportunity to hear from President Lou Anna K. Simon and Dean Ron Hendrick over the dinner portion of the event.

The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. and end around 9 p.m. For course descriptions and to register for the event, visit the Ag Innovation Day website. I hope to see you there!

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Filed under Ag Innovation Day, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Animal Science, Events, Farming, Field Days, Uncategorized

Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference in Detroit

Each spring, educators from Michigan State University (MSU) Extension with support from MSU AgBioResearch and the Michigan Brewers Guild host the Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference. For the first time, this year the conference was held in downtown Detroit. March 2-3, over 300 agricultural producers, processors, vendors, brewers and others attended, coming from 15 states and multiple countries. The conference offered both basic and advanced sessions for hop growers, and a barley session and malting tour for both growers and brewers.

Kevin Riel, Owner of Double ‘R’ Hop Ranches, Inc. and President of Hop Growers of America, stands at the front of the room at a podium giving a presentation to a ballroom filled with seats and participants.

Kevin Riel, Owner of Double ‘R’ Hop Ranches, Inc. and President of Hop Growers of America, addresses a near capacity crowd at the 3rd annual Great Lakes Hop & Barley Conference in Detroit, MI. Photo credit: Rob Sirrine.

The conference incorporated elements that are unique to the area. For example, Dan Carmody, president of the Eastern Market Corporation, described Detroit’s increasing demand for local food and craft beer. Another Detroit highlight for participants was the evening reception held at the Detroit Beer Company. Participants left rave reviews of the location and the experiences that they had.

The conference is an important way to support all of the participants in the growing craft beverage industry. According to the national Brewers Association, Michigan ranks sixth in the United States in the number of craft breweries, and the industry creates an economic impact of $1.8 million. MSU Extension is proud of our educators who are at the forefront of education and working with this evolving industry.

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Speaking of our educators, we’d like to send a huge thank you to the conference planning committee, made up of Ashley McFarland, Erin Lizotte and Rob Sirrine, and Scott Graham from the Michigan Brewers Guild. Also, thank you to MSU Events Management (Betsy Braid and Megghan Honke) and MSU county-based staff members Annette Kleinschmit and Michelle Coleman, who helped behind the scenes.

As soon as it’s posted, I’ll link to Rob, Ashley and Erin’s news article about the conference so that you can read more about all of the opportunities that participants had, the tours and the speakers.

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Conferences, Farming, Hop & Barley

Clarksville Research Center hosts field day

On Wednesday, June 22, the Michigan State University Clarksville Research Center hosted a field day to showcase its tree fruit research programs and cutting-edge research.

Around 170 people attended, viewing presentations on cherry breeding, high-density apple and stone fruit production, Solid Set Canopy Delivery Systems and orchard platform demonstrations. They also visited the orchard equipment show as well.

Don Lehman, District 8 coordinator, was impressed by the research as well as the companies that participated.

“It was especially interesting to see the several companies that displayed platforms that are used for tree pruning and harvesting,” Don said. “The new systems produce higher quality fruit and reduced labor costs.”

The Clarksville Research Center hosts research on small fruits and tree fruits as well as potatoes, chestnuts and a variety of other crops. Research at the 440-acre site includes variety development, fruit thinning and growth regulators, dwarf rootstocks for fruit trees, integrated pest management, organic production systems and new pruning practices to help make production more profitable, efficient and environmentally friendly.

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Farming, Horticulture

Local cherries and beer: The impact of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station and a Michigan State University Extension specialist, was recently highlighted on Greening of the Great Lakes, hosted by Kirk Heinze. She was also written about in the MLive article “Michigan State University Research and Michigan Agriculture Are Making a Global Impact.”

The coverage went into detail about how the station assists commercial fruit growers in the “fruit belt” of Northwest Michigan.

When describing the impact of the station on the area, Nikki said, “It’s the hub of activity, research and information for the Michigan grower community.”

One of the major areas of research is hops production.

According to Nikki in her interview, “The major market for local hops is microbreweries. Locality is something consumers really embrace and there’s something about knowing that the hops used to make your beer were grown by a local farmer.”

With the help of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, local growers are selling to local microbreweries, which keeps the entire production cycle local. The microbrewery market is growing as well, because many Michiganders appreciate the nature of supporting the local producer.

Hops are not the only crops being researched by the station – Rothwell spoke about the station’s contribution to the growth of the market for Michigan cherries across the country: specifically the Hungarian Balaton cherry.

“There are markets in New York City and Chicago with people from Eastern European descent that really miss their cherries from their homeland. There’s a company that trucks our Balaton cherries from northern Michigan all the way back to those markets and they get sold like hot cakes,” she said.

To see the full article and hear the interview, visit “Michigan State University Research and Michigan Agriculture Are Making a Global Impact” on MLive.

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Filed under Farming

Breakfast on the Farm succeeds despite many adversities

The last Breakfast on the Farm event of this season took place last weekend at Uphaus Farms in Washtenaw County. I was proud to hear how the event went off without a major hitch, especially considering the storm that hit the area on Friday night. The resourcefulness and perseverance of the family, volunteers and our staff prove that nothing holds down Michigan State University Extension.

A little background on Uphaus Farms: The host of this event, Lyndon Uphaus, is the fifth generation to operate the family-owned farm, which got its start 139 years ago. He and his wife, Ann, care for about 1,000 beef animals annually, with about 450 cattle on site at one time. They also work approximately 600 acres of crop land. This year, the farm boasted 450 acres of corn, 100 acres of soybeans and 50 acres of wheat.

At 8 p.m. Friday, 70 mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain caused a power outage, holding off set-up until the next morning. In addition, the rains made parking on the now-soaked grounds impossible. The family made a phone call to ensure that the drivers of four school buses would be on standby to transport visitors to the farm on Saturday morning from off-site parking two miles away.

By 7 a.m. the morning of the event, the volunteers had completed trial bus runs and rearranged some of the stations around the farm. They also acquired a second generator. The next two hours passed in a flurry of activity as workers set up stations and put up signs directing visitors to the new parking area.

“The resourcefulness and flexibility of a great group of volunteers and outstanding host family was very evident last Friday and Saturday when some quick decisions needed to be made,” said Nancy Thelen, MSU Extension educator. “The host family, every volunteer and Extension staff member worked together to make sure the flow of visitors would be safe and workable. When the last visitor left the farm at 2 p.m., it was remarkable to reflect on all the positive actions from everyone involved.”

Despite the storm and the last-minute parking changes, 2,400 visitors enjoyed the event. The Uphaus family, Nancy Thelen, program coordinator Ashley Kuschel, the planning committee and more than 400 volunteers all demonstrated just how adaptable and innovative they are by making adjustments to run the event without power and in very wet field conditions. This was the final Breakfast on the Farm for 2014, but next year, more farms will open up their doors for our program.

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Filed under Farming

Potato field days

By Patrick I. Cudney

Last week, Chris Long, Michigan State University potato specialist, and James DeDecker, MSU Extension specialty field crop and bioenergy educator, collaborated with Mike Wenkel, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, and Christian Kapp, research technician at the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC), to put on two Potato Field Days. The first event took place Aug. 26 at Erke Farms in Rogers City in Presque Isle County, Michigan, and the second took place Aug. 27 at TJJ Farms in Cornell in Delta County, Michigan. I was able to attend both of these events. They were a great example of industry, extension and research, working collaboratively in support of agricultural economic development.

This program offered an opportunity for producers and agribusiness professionals to view an on-farm potato variety trial and receive industry updates from commission representatives and MSU Extension specialists. The sessions included updates on local crops, insect management, the seed industry and the potato industry.

The events grew this year, particularly in Presque Isle County, more than doubling the attendees from last year’s event. There were some new faces, including new agribusiness representatives interested in getting involved in the potato industry so that they will know what the growers will need in the future. Some consumers attended as well. This is important because the agriculture industry comes under scrutiny by the public at times. Giving them a first-hand look at farm management practices can be very useful.

James DeDecker said, “Diversity in crops and production systems is what makes Michigan agriculture unique and resilient. The fresh market and seed potato industries in northeast lower Michigan and the U.P. are examples of producers and agribusiness advancing the tradition of making the most of what Michigan has to offer in soils, climate, etc., in order to produce an abundant, healthful and profitable crop. MSU Extension is dedicated to supporting the potato industry in its efforts through research and outreach events like the annual Potato Field Days held in Presque Isle and Delta counties.”

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming

Congress action and inaction affects our budget

News about funding uncertainties isn’t really new to those of us who’ve worked in MSUE for any part of the past decade. It doesn’t make it easier to wait on pins and needles, but it’s not new territory. We’ve spent the first three months of the federal fiscal year (which began Oct. 1, 2012), waiting for decision makers in Washington to let us know how much funding we’ll have to support our work this year, and though they extended the Farm Bill temporarily, they haven’t come to any concrete decisions.

While not deciding how much funding we have is one challenge, another is the decision that they did make to reduce the funding we had been granted in support of our nutrition programming for families with limited resources (SNAP-ED) by 28 percent for the current fiscal year.

We are working to find ways to minimize the impacts of a 28 percent budget reduction on the people we serve and the staff who serve our clients. That means we are holding off on filling open positions and looking at ways to make the most of funds remaining from last fiscal year and those available from other sources. Inevitably, it may mean we won’t be able to serve as many people as we had planned to serve or to serve them as frequently as we had planned. But we’re going to do our part to live up to our mission and commitments.

That’s the state of things in MSU Extension today. I shared details about how the resolution of the fiscal cliff crisis and the extension of the Farm Bill affects us on our MSUE Update webinar on Monday, Jan. 7. If you missed that, you can review the recording of the webinar.

During the past four years, we have worked hard in MSU Extension to position ourselves for an unpredictable future, anticipating that demands for our services would change and grow while resources from the public sector would likely shrink. The changes we expected have occurred: we still find a great deal of interest in our services, and decision makers and stakeholders are good at identifying new needs that call for our expertise and network of Extension professionals.  At the same time, federal funding has remained flat or declining and unpredictable. State funding was cut 15 percent two years ago after a decade of proposals that ranged from eliminating our state funding to reducing it by 25 to 50 percent.

Amid the turmoil, some stakeholders have expressed concerns about our commitment to the land-grant mission, a mission based on public investment in the provision of educational services and application of research to individuals, families, farms, businesses and communities at the local level. As we have adjusted to reduced funding, we’ve sought to embrace technology, organize ourselves to be smarter, put a premium on programmatic investments at the expense of administrative services, all in order to make sure that we are meeting the ideals of the land-grant mission in a 21st century setting.

MSU Extension staff and faculty members are out in the communities across the state, working to help people improve their lives. We’re doing our best to make sure they have the resources and support they need to get that job done. Regardless of what decision makers do or don’t do, we have a job to get done and we’re going to see that it gets done.

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Filed under Agriculture, Animal Science, Budget, Farming, Funding, Impacts

Great Lakes Forage and Grazing Conference

Thanks to the hard work of organizers and a bevy of top-notch speakers, the latest Great Lakes Forage and Grazing Conference was a huge success. The conference, held March 7-8 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center during Agriculture and Natural Resources week, saw attendance increase 64 percent from 2011.

Innovative producers throughout Michigan as well as some of the best researchers in the country were invited to discuss feeding topics and grazing information. But the biggest hits among conference-goers, according to organizer Jerry Lindquist, were those that put a new twist on familiar topics.

Joshua Dukart, a certified holistic management educator based in North Dakota, discussed how cover crops could increase soil quality, which would in turn extend the grazing season and help lower the cost of raising livestock. There was another story of one Michigan farmer who gets more value out of his sheep by milking them and producing cheese.

“We are very pleased that we saw a nice spike in the attendance figures. We know we provided the right information for the farmers and agribusiness community, and we received great comments from those in attendance about the quality of the speakers we brought in,” Lindquist said.

This is a great example of how MSUE is “new” and how our targeted programming can attract new and larger audiences while providing them the tools they need for greater productivity or profitability. Congratulations to the Forage and Grazing work groups and the Michigan Forage Council for working together to put on such a wonderful event. And they will use this experience to build on to make next year an even bigger success.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Uncategorized

Down on the farm: MSU Extension educators team up with producers, industry to reach, teach thousands

Another example of coordinated teamwork involves the grassroots efforts initiated by Michigan State University Extension educators partnering with county Farm Bureau offices, producers and industry groups that produced three Breakfast on the Farm events that reached more than 7,500 Michigan residents and out-of-state visitors – many from non-farm backgrounds – this summer. Those who attended one of this year’s breakfast events have learned firsthand about modern-day agricultural practices, caring for farm animals, and the steps food crops take before hitting grocery store shelves, all in addition to enjoying a menu of Michigan-grown and Michigan-processed food at a complimentary breakfast. Breakfast on the Farm was introduced to Michigan residents in 2009 when MSU Extension dairy educator Faith Cullens spearheaded the first such event in Clinton County. Since then, other counties have climbed onboard – in addition to Clinton County, breakfasts were also held this year in Washtenaw and Isabella counties – and interest in holding even more of these free, family-friendly programs continues to grow.

Breakfast on the Farm

Kids attending Breakfast on the Farm get up close and personal with a heifer.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming