Tag Archives: amy irish-brown

Congratulations to MSU Extension distinguished staff

Congratulations to Philip Schwallier, George Silva and Lois Wolfson, who received the 2018 Distinguished Academic Staff Award from Michigan State University. What do they all have in common? They have Extension appointments, and they are making a difference statewide and nationwide. Read more about each person and their work in MSU Today.

The Distinguished Academic Staff Award recognizes the outstanding achievements of those professionals who serve MSU in advising, curriculum development, outreach, extension, research and teaching. Up to four Distinguished Academic Staff Awards are given annually. These awards provide universitywide recognition and reward to outstanding individuals with careers demonstrating long-term excellence and exceptional contributions to MSU.

On February 6, MSU Extension held a reception to honor Phil, George and Lois at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center where we heard from their nominators, Amy Irish-Brown, Ron Bates and Jo Latimore, respectively. A huge thanks to everyone who attended the reception and who participated in putting it together. Please join me in congratulating Phil, George and Lois.

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An apple a day, brought to you by strategic connections

With fall in full swing, hopefully you’ve had a chance to pick up some Michigan apples from your local farmers market, orchard or grocery store. Did you know that Michigan is our country’s third largest producer of apples with more than 11.3 million apple trees on over 35,000 acres (according to the Michigan Apple Committee)? That’s 825 family-run farms that produce our juicy and delicious Pure Michigan apples. Who can bring the apple industry groups and families to the table with the university to problem-solve specific needs? Michigan State University (MSU) Extension agriculture and agribusiness educators Amy Irish-Brown and Phil Schwallier.

Through their strategic connections, Amy and Phil facilitated the creation of the lab on the Ridge near Sparta to measure apple maturity indices. The Ridge is Michigan’s major apple-producing region that is located in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. This region has the topography, soil, elevation and microclimate that are perfect for growing apples. The idea for a lab grew from a conversation Amy and Phil had on the way to a meeting about the need to closely monitor Honeycrisp and Fuji apples that had been experiencing some serious quality issues. When they pitched the idea to the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, they received an outstanding response from the entire apple industry.

The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission responded with $50,000 in funding for the project, the Michigan Apple Committee with $15,000, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society with $20,000. Storage Control Systems responded by donating space for the lab at a value of $5,000. AgroFresh donated an automatic firmness tester (valued at $5,000) and Riveridge Produce Marketing donated the use of a quality database ($2,000). Dr. Randy Beaudry, from the MSU Department of Horticulture, donated use of a gas chromatograph ($3,000) and served as MSU specialist for this effort. When local apple growers donated fruit for testing, the lab was ready for action.

Why was there such an overwhelming response? Because Amy and Phil had formed strategic connections and relationships with the people involved in the apple industry from growers, to businesses, to campus connections.

“It’s really been a lifetime of connections that have developed and continue to develop.” Amy said. “We work with a great group of producers – they are supportive and fun. We treat everyone with respect and listen to their issues. The one-on-one connections lead to an insight into the bigger issues facing the apple industry as a whole, which best helps us help growers. Growers often just want to be growers, so sometimes, we have to make connections with media, state and federal agencies and services, commodity groups, and others to represent the interests of the apple industry for them.”

The lab has been up and running since 2015, and it provides critical real-time information to Michigan apple producers from pre-harvest through the harvest season and in post-harvest storage. Amy and Phil are able to integrate, summarize and deliver information to Michigan apple growers in concise weekly reports on apple pruning indices, nutritional impact, maturity indices for appropriate harvest, and storage indices. These reports help growers make the best real-time decisions and grow high-quality apples at a profit. Using this technology, they identify what is working well for the current year apple crop and where growers can make decisions to improve this year’s harvest outcomes.

“We have the fruit industry’s issues at heart; it is our passion.” Phil said. “To be valued, successful and admired requires knowing the people, performing tasks that address their most pressing issues, and the persistence to complete the work the growers and industry define as important. This means that ‘people skills’ is the most important characteristic an Extension person needs to have; but fruit knowledge, hard work, self-motivation and job dedication are also important. We work for the fruit industry and thus the fruit industry works for us, MSU and Michigan.”

Check out this great video created by the Michigan Apple Committee that describes growers’ relationship with MSU Extension.

Amy and Phil are a great example of strategic connections and building relationships. Have you thought about connecting with committees in your area or faculty specialists on campus? What needs to do you see in your communities that could be met by a collaboration with local businesses, companies and governmental groups?

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Horticulture, Partnerships, strategic connections

MSU Extension staff members receive IFTA awards

The International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) presented awards to Dr. Randy Beaudry and Amy Irish-Brown at its 59th Annual Conference and Tours in Grand Rapids. Each year during its awards dinner banquet, the IFTA recognizes five categories of outstanding industry professionals. This year, more than 400 orchardists, nursery professionals and plant scientists from nine countries gathered and honored the award recipients.

Photo of Dr. Randy Beaudry professor and researcher in the MSU Deparment of Horticulture and MSU Extension.

Dr. Randy Beaudry, professor and researcher in the MSU Deparment of Horticulture and MSU Extension. Photo courtesy of MSU.

Dr. Randy Beaudry received the 2016 Outstanding Researcher Award. Randy has been a professor and researcher for over 25 years and is part of the MSU Department of Horticulture and MSU Extension. Randy’s recent research focuses on pre-harvest maturity and postharvest apple storage, specifically in the Honeycrisp variety. He has worked to reduce storage disorders and to improve controlled-atmosphere storage of Honeycrisp apples. His work proved that Honeycrisp apples need pre-conditioning after harvest before they are stored to eliminate storage breakdown. Also, his research shows that post-harvest treatments also increase fruit quality.

Dr. Vance Baird, Department of Horticulture chair, shared his thoughts on Randy’s award.

“Randy Beaudry continues to define excellence and balance in effective research and impactful outreach. His program at Michigan State University operates at the cutting edge of post-harvest science while remaining relevant to the tree-fruit industry in Michigan, across the U.S. and around the world,” Vance said. “This award from the IFTA recognizes the contributions and positive influence Randy’s research career has had and will continue to have, for the success and sustainability of the fruit tree industry.”

Photo of Amy Irish-Brown, senior MSU Extension educator.

Amy Irish-Brown, senior MSU Extension educator. Photo courtesy of MSU.

Amy Irish-Brown is a senior Extension educator who has worked with tree fruit orchardists for almost 25 years. She specializes in tree fruit integrated pest management serving west central Michigan, but acts as a resource for the entire state. Growers respect Amy for her abilities, dedication and knowledge, and they are drawn to her friendly personality.

Dr. Ron Bates, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute director, shared his thoughts about Amy’s award.

“Amy Irish-Brown is a consummate Extension professional and works diligently to deliver to the tree fruit industry, science-based, cutting-edge information they need to be successful,” Ron said. “Amy is well deserving of this award and is to be congratulated for the recognition that her extension programming deserves.”

Congratulations, Randy and Amy!

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Helping our customers succeed

Twice in one week, I heard comments that struck a chord with me and with the mission of Michigan State University Extension.

Last Friday, I had an opportunity to tour Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm, a family farming operation located near Johannesburg, Michigan, that specializes in the application of aseptic tissue-culture techniques to produce the first generation of potato tubers that eventually supply seed potatoes to commercial potato producers. The Sklarczyk farm is one of two in the nation that assure propagation of varieties with the desired genetic traits for the industry and in tubers that are verified as disease-free. The Sklarczyk farm was the first of the two to adopt the practices. The Sklarczyks’ work has hinged on the development of new varieties by Dr. David Douches, professor of plant, soil and microbial sciences at MSU, and a handful of other potato breeders in the United States. As fascinating as the technology is that the Sklarczyk farm uses, Benjamin Sklarczyk, who represents the third generation of his family in the business, made a statement that really caught my ear. He said that Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm exists in order to help their customers succeed. They want to provide the best quality seed for the seed potato growers they serve directly and the commercial growers that their customers serve.

One of the reasons that comment caught my ear is because I’ve heard the same comment from another business owner involved in the Michigan potato business, Todd Forbush, partner and vice president of Techmark, Inc. Techmark specializes in the design and construction of computerized ventilation systems for potato storage and for other agricultural crops. I have heard Todd make the same statement that I heard Benjamin Sklarczyk make: “My main goal is to help my customers be profitable and successful.” In fact, the mission statement for Techmark captures this: “To serve high quality agricultural producers, always striving to make the best producers better by combining high quality service and products with innovative ideas and training.”

And that sounds a lot like our own mission statement “to help people improve their lives through education” and the 4-H motto: “to make the best better.”

I was reminded of that connection between the Sklarczyk and Techmark mission statements in listening to one of our colleagues, Amy Irish-Brown, senior Extension educator, who was quoted in a radio news feature on Monday. You may remember that National Public Radio reporter Noah Adams produced a feature on the devastating crop loss that Michigan apple growers experienced last fall. He conducted a follow-up report this spring and his story was broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday this week. In listening to Amy’s cautions to growers at an update meeting, I can hear the same commitment to helping “customers succeed” in her comments as I’ve heard from Benjamin and Todd. In all of these cases, what makes for a successful operation – whether it’s a business or a service such as MSU Extension – is a commitment to serving others in a way that helps them to succeed. I consider myself fortunate to work with Extension professionals who live and breathe that ethos every day, and to work in partnership with businesses and industries like Benjamin’s and Todd’s that thrive on the same ethos.

That this merits commentary is further supported by this note from Amy about Mr. Adams’ decision to conduct a follow-up story on the apple industry in Michigan: “Mr. Adams tells me that in his 30 years of broadcasting and over 30,000 pieces, he has only done follow-up for a handful of stories over the years. I think he was impressed with the integrity of the Michigan apple industry and the people who make it successful – that’s why he came back to hear more.”

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Extension educator talks on NPR about toll on apple industry

On Sept. 17, NPR aired a story on “All Things Considered” featuring the hit Michigan’s apple industry took this year. A mild winter followed by an April freeze reduced the harvest by 90 percent.

Amy Irish-Brown, senior Extension educator, contributed to the program, discussing the toll on apple orchards in the west Michigan region known as the Ridge. The 158 square miles of gently rolling slopes produces 65 percent of our state’s apple crop. This year’s harvest is only 10 to 15 percent of the usual crop. Amy helped the producers connect with producers and processors to help make the story compelling. And Phil Schwallier, Extension educator in AABI, and his wife, Judy, were interviewed from their perspective as the owners of a u-pick apple orchard.

Listen to the program, and read the NPR article here.

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Extension staff members calm growers’ weather-related fears through expertise and technology

Although we’re all enjoying the warm spring weather, the unseasonable conditions have raised concerns with growers. Eileen Gianiodis, Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications news manager, has received several calls from the media with questions about how this spring’s wacky weather may affect various crops. True to form, Michigan State University Extension educators and specialists have risen to the challenge. They’ve written numerous stories for MSU Extension News dealing with the weather craziness, and reporters have picked up those and called educators directly.

 Though we have not been able to track exactly how much publicity the issue has generated (at least a dozen media hits, but that’s way underestimated), I have been impressed with how ready, willing and able educators are to talk to reporters to help their readers, listeners and viewers understand the implications of an early spring followed by a frost. 

 This MLive Kalamazoo News article links to an MSU Extension News report by Jeff Andresen, associate professor, and Aaron Pollyea, research technologist, both in the Department of Geography. The report discusses the abnormally warm weather and the chances of a hard frost. The Kalamazoo News article also gives specific fruit information from Extension educator Mark Longstroth. Many of our staff members including Mark, Amy Irish Brown, Diane Brown, Duke Elsner, Erin Lizotte, Nikki Rothwell, Carlos Garcia-Salazar, Phil Schwallier, Bill Shane and Bob Tritten have written MSU Extension News regional reports on Michigan fruit.

 Reporters have interviewed staff members about the weather issue. View the following WZZM video in which Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension horticulture educator, gives expert advice on how to cover plants to protect the early buds from overnight frost:


 MSU Extension News has proven to be a winner in expanding the reach of our expertise, and our educators and specialists are willing and more than capable of meeting the challenge of sharing their knowledge about an important issue, whether it’s through written articles, bulletins, interviews, workshops or one-on-one meetings with the public. Thanks to all who have helped to make us a valuable resource to farmers, gardeners and consumers in these uncertain times!

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Fruit growers name Beaudry ‘Fruit Man of the Year’

Yesterday, I had my second opportunity to see Dr. Randy Beaudry, Michigan State University professor of horticulture, honored by the industry he serves in his research and Extension program. I described his recognition with the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan State Horticultural Society in a previous posting. And yesterday, the Michigan Apple Pomesters recognized him with the “Fruit Man of the Year” award, one that has been awarded to educators Phil Schwallier and Amy Irish-Brown as well. The presentation recognized the impact of Dr. Beaudry’s research on postharvest physiology that I described in the previous blog entry.

 What was different yesterday was that the presentation was made by current and former students who worked in Dr. Beaudry’s lab. To hear praise from students like I heard yesterday is remarkable. They genuinely know that Dr. Beaudry was much more concerned with their education and development than with the work that he needed to have them complete in his laboratory.

 Adam Dietrich summed it up by saying that he was “…very accommodating, friendly, and one of the best resources we had due to his wealth of knowledge on scientific but also life subjects. He was never unwilling to help when college homework became a struggle, always made sure there was some order in his lab, but made sure it was a friendly atmosphere and was moving forward. He had high expectations of everyone and we were sure to meet them because of the respect we had for him but also because he had always treated us with respect.”

Congratulations to Dr. Beaudry, and thanks for his contributions to the Michigan apple industry AND MSU’s students.

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MSUE Kent County Junior Master Gardener Program gets kids active, educated and outdoors

In an age when childhood obesity is a real concern and when children are pulled indoors by the attraction of video and computer games, gardening can be a welcome solution. Gardening can not only get kids active and outdoors, it can get them excited about eating healthy food that they’ve grown themselves. Growing a garden can become a lifelong activity that can lead to a healthy, active life.

 Michigan State University Extension Kent County coordinated the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program in Grand Rapids and Lowell during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The once-a-week 10- to 12-week program involved Kent County fourth through sixth graders with 11 to 22 children participating depending on the year and location.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden at the MSU Extension Kent County Office at a May 21, 2011, planting party. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Besides getting a lot of exercise by working in the garden, kids participated in a garden-related craft activity and learned about nutrition while making a healthy snack. The children went on field trips to various locations including a local greenhouse, a food pantry, an apiary and a daylily garden where they learned how to pollinate daylilies. Amy Irish-Brown, Extension educator, was their tour guide when they visited Clarksville Research Center, part of MSU’s AgBioResearch. They even operated a farm stand at a local farmers market and learned from two local chefs how to properly cut fruits, vegetables and herbs from their garden for cooking and eating.

 The kids did homework. Homework in the summer? That’s right. But I’m told this was homework that the kids got excited about. Kids read from their Junior Master Gardener workbooks (Texas A&M 4-H curricula) and cooked with produce from their JMG gardens. At the last class, a recipe book of all the students’ recipes was compiled and printed for everyone to take home.

 Extension educator Kendra Wills coordinated both the Grand Rapids and Lowell programs this summer. Extension educator Rebecca Finneran lent her help and expertise in Grand Rapids with the support of the MSU Extension Kent County Master Gardener Program. The Lowell Area Schools, Lowell Community Wellness and the Lowell Area Community Fund supported the Lowell program.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011. The participants learned how to pollinate daylilies and create their own cross breeds. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Although this effort technically falls under the MSU Extension Greening Michigan Institute, it really connects all the institutes because it provides education on agriculture to children and youth, promotes health and nutrition, and supports the creation of local food systems.

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Step II and Step III promotions approved by MSU

The Michigan State University Provost’s Office has approved promotions of 10 Extension academic staff members to Step II and five to Step III. Step II is awarded after successful completion of a three-year and six-year portfolio review process, and is analogous to the promotion to associate professor rank for faculty. For individuals appointed in the MSUE Continuing Employment (CE) system, Step II also comes with award of CE status. Step III is awarded to Extension academic staff members who have demonstrated excellence and scholarly achievement in their work as Extension professionals over a sustained period. Those who are awarded Step III achieve “senior” status, analogous to achievement of the professor rank among faculty, and their titles are changed by addition of the senior modifier to the title of educator, program leader or specialist.

 Individuals who were successful in the Step II process this year include:

  • Janis Brinn, Children and Youth Institute
  • Kittie Butcher, Children and Youth Institute
  • Ryan Coffey, Greening Michigan Institute
  • Elizabeth Ferry, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • Andrew Hayes, Greening Michigan Institute
  • Glenda Kilpatrick, Children and Youth Institute
  • Betty Jo Nash, Children and Youth Institute
  • Nikki Rothwell, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • Brad Slaughter, Michigan Natural Features Inventory
  • Dixie Ward, Greening Michigan Institute

 Those who were promoted to senior status this year include:

  • Phil Durst, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • Kathy Lee, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • Amy Irish-Brown, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • George Silva, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute
  • Jane Herbert, Greening Michigan Institute

 Congratulations to all for this significant achievement. You can learn more about the Step II and Step III processes in our Administrative Handbook at Step I, Step II and Step III Promotions.

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