Saying goodbye to Dean Jeffrey Armstrong isn’t easy, but I am extremely pleased that Provost Kim Wilcox has announced that he will recommend Dr. Doug Buhler to the Board of Trustees to serve as interim dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Doug has served CANR well and in a variety of capacities since arriving in 2000. Dr. Buhler is currently research associate dean of the CANR and associate director of AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station). He is a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, for which he served as chairperson from 2000 to 2005. His appointment is pending approval by the MSU Board of Trustees, and if approved, Dr. Buhler will begin as dean Feb. 1 and continue in the position until a permanent dean is identified through a national search process. While he was department chair, Doug also served as an interim state leader in Michigan State University Extension for agriculture programs for about 18 months, so he is well aware and supportive of MSUE’s role and mission. Doug and Dean Armstrong are working closely already on making a smooth transition of leadership during what are challenging times.
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Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications has made your work a little easier by compiling Michigan State University logos and wordmarks in one location at http://anrcom.msu.edu/anrcom/links. Scroll down and under “Logos/Wordmarks,” you can find the MSU Extension wordmark provided in both high-resolution print and Web-resolution formats. There are also several versions of the CANR wordmark on the site, and the MSU AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station) wordmark will be available soon.
For more information, contact ANR Communications at email@example.com.
Tomorrow is the last chance for Michigan State University Extension educators to sign up for the “Write Winning Grants” workshop sponsored by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. The daylong event takes place on Jan. 6 on the MSU campus. The cost is $90. If you are interested, you can sign up at http://www.maes.msu.edu/news/grantwrite_jan2011.htm. Available seats are going quickly.
Today is the last day of the state fiscal year, and the Michigan Legislature has completed action on the funding process for the higher education budget for the year that starts tomorrow. Actually, the Legislature completed their work on the higher education bill on Tuesday this week, and the governor’s office has indicated that she will approve the bill as passed. In the bill, state funding for Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) will be reduced 2.8 percent from the total support provided for the fiscal year that ends today. There are several positive aspects of this news. First, our budgets were treated the same as those for the state’s 15 publicly supported universities: all are receiving a 2.8 percent reduction in funding. Second, all of the funding for MAES and MSUE is from the state General Fund. In last year’s budget, 44 percent of our funding was slated to come from federal stimulus funds, which added some bureaucratic obstacles to receiving the funds and also shook confidence in what the ongoing level of support for these lines would be. Having our General Fund restored is reassuring. And finally, although it’s hard to ever consider a budget reduction as a good thing, that the reduction is 2.8 percent and not something more severe, like 10 percent or 15 percent that Cooperative Extension programs have experienced in other states in our region, is a positive outcome. With our state’s economy struggling and the structural deficit in the state budget, our programs will continue to be at risk of more severe reductions. But for now, to have a modest reduction of this magnitude while we’re going through our redesign process allows us to better prepare for how we will continue to deliver programs if we face more significant reductions in future years.
Now is a good time to let those stakeholders who have worked in support of our funding to know how much their support has meant to keeping us intact and to thank them for their dedication to our programs. And ultimately, I want to thank each of you for delivering programs and conducting research while tolerating challenging and uncertain times. Because without those programs and those research findings, we wouldn’t benefit from the kind of support that we have throughout the state from a very diverse group of stakeholders. Thanks!
Michigan State University Extension ran a two-day intensive school for livestock and dairy producers interested in learning more about grazing practices and systems September 15-16 at the Lake City Experiment Station, part of the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. The grazing school introduced the 23 participants to grazing management practices through classroom instruction and hands-on activities.
At the conference, Jerry Lindquist, MSU Extension specialist, discussed the various forage plants found in pastures. Ben Bartlett, senior district Extension educator, presented grazing system planning; Kevin Gould, Extension educator, focused on water system planning; Rich Leep, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences, presented forage management; and Rich Ehrhardt, academic specialist, covered assessing forage availability. Jason Rowntree, MSU assistant professor of animal science, addressed research on pasture management, and Allen Williams, Tallgrass Beef Company, gave a talk on the future of grass-fed beef. Producers left with some practical tips and real-world knowledge to use in their livestock and dairy operations. Participants learned strategies to optimize their pasture’s grazing potential.
Pasture-based systems and the grass-fed livestock market are growing. The goal of the grazing school was to provide introduction material and hands-on training for new producers entering into the business. At the same time, the school aimed to provide information and training for seasoned beef producers as well. According to Dr. Rowntree, thirty percent of the school’s survey respondents indicated they plan to add 50 to 100 head of grazing livestock to their farms in the next year.
The Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and Extension Council met this week for some educational tours in southeastern Michigan, and as always, I end up learning more from the council members than they learn from our program features. This week was no exception. Ken Norton, farmer and council member from Branch County, told the story of finding a historic newsletter in his house when he and his wife first moved in a few years ago. The house had been in the family for some time when Ken’s family moved in, and they found the newsletter tucked in a nook above a floor joist in the basement. It had been prepared by agriculture Extension agent Gordon Schlubatis, who had sent word out to farmers that September 15 would be a fly-free date (I’m not sure what that means), with the implication that farmers should plan on planting their winter wheat as soon as they could after September 15. What’s particularly ironic was that Ken then proceeded to pull out his smartphone and showed it to the rest of the council. He went on to explain how today he can use his smartphone to get up-to-date weather information through Enviroweather and with applications available there, he can determine optimal times and durations for scheduling irrigation, planning fungicide or pesticide applications, and even for figuring out when it is optimal to plant winter wheat. I thought it was a great illustration of the concept of what a land-grant university provides to growers through research supported by MAES and programs supported by Michigan State University Extension. We adapt the technology to be relevant to how producers work today, but when it comes right down to it, what they need is information that is timely and based on solid research. We’re still doing that, perhaps with different gizmos, but with the same dedication and forethought that Gordon Schlubatis demonstrated years ago.
You can learn more about Enviroweather, a service funded jointly by MAES and MSUE and with a great deal of support from Project GREEEN, from their website at www.enviroweather.msu.edu.
The headlines this week have been encouraging, and they suggest that the Michigan Legislature and Governor Granholm are close to having the state budget resolved for fiscal year 2011 (which begins on October 1). According to news reports, leadership in both houses and the governor’s office have reached agreement on terms that would produce a balanced budget. Several elements of that agreement were approved in one of the legislative chambers yesterday, and conference committees for the various budget bills are now scheduled to meet, beginning with some today (September 9). Little information has been released on the higher education bill, but the target for this bill, that is, the total amount of spending to be appropriated for higher education in the agreement, is the same as what the governor originally proposed in February. The governor proposed no reduction in funding for higher education for FY2011. The details of how those funds are distributed among the multiple lines in the budget are not clear, but I take this as a positive sign that the appropriation for the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan State University will likely be the same as last year or minimally different at worst. At this point, it appears that there is no difference between the parties with respect to funding for our programs. I will post updates to my blog as they develop.
The MSU Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources recently conducted a report sponsored by Det Norske Veritas (DNV), a global provider of services for managing risk.
The report, “Food Safety Certification: A Study of Food Safety in the U.S. Supply Chain,” compiles data generated from online surveys of more than 400 consumers and 73 food companies under the management of the Product Center. The survey found that consumers want to see evidence that the food that they are buying has gone through an independent safety certification process. In fact, many would be willing to pay more for a product if it was marked with a certification label. Industry professionals are more interested in traceability. If something goes wrong, they need to find out the source of the problem. Both suppliers and consumers feel that safe and healthy food is of prime importance. And both suppliers and consumers have changed their habits and business practices to line up with their belief in food safety.
These results reinforce the importance of developing greater strength in our programs on food safety in our redesign. This is one of those areas that cuts across institutes, with both the Agriculture/Agribusiness Institute and the Health and Nutrition Institute investing in educator positions to ensure we are delivering research-based information to individuals at multiple points in the food supply chain, beginning with producers and ending with consumers. As our teams develop curricula and applied research in this area, I anticipate we may find a need for greater expertise on campus, and we have had productive conversations with department chairs regarding specialist and faculty positions that may be needed to ensure a strong program in food safety.
The MSU Product Center was established in 2003 with funds from the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) and Michigan State University Extension to improve economic opportunities in the Michigan agriculture, food and natural resource sectors. It’s led by director Chris Peterson.
On a hot, muggy day ideal for soybeans to grow, I found myself in one of those strange ironies of a land-grant university administrator – standing in the midst of soy test plots, dressed in attire more suited for a conference room than a bean field, admiring the differences in aphid densities on the leaves of two adjacent bean plants. One of the plants had genetic traits that render it resistant to the leaf-sucking insects that can reduce bean yields dramatically. Aphids were luxuriating in the neighboring plant, unendowed with the protective genes. Those two plants and the cream-colored specks on them illustrate the basic concept of a land-grant university, but I didn’t realize that until after I heard the story of their genesis.
There were actually two varieties of soybeans on display, each with slightly different genetic traits that render them aphid-resistant, and both are the results of research conducted by Dr. Dechun Wang, soy breeder and associate professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Dr. Wang’s work was initiated by the arrival of these aphids in Michigan about 10 years ago. The aphids were originally found in Asia, where soy was domesticated, and I’m not certain when they arrived in North America, but I heard Dr. Chris DiFonzo, professor of entomology relate the story of her first encounter with the aphids in Michigan. She recalled going to a meeting with farmers that had been arranged by Extension educators in southwestern Michigan in 2000, and several farmers came to that meeting with soy plants from their farms that were heavily infested with aphids. Dr. DiFonzo knew immediately what she was looking at, and confirmed it upon return to her lab – these were the first soy aphids to be documented in Michigan. Since then, she and a number of colleagues, both faculty on campus and educators in the field, have tested and shared alternative management practices to help minimize the impacts of the aphids on soy production in Michigan and throughout the north central United States. Shortly after the aphids’ arrival, Dr. Wang began a research program to evaluate a number of genetic varieties of soy plants in order to find some that had natural resistance to the aphids. A small percentage of the thousands of varieties he has evaluated had some resistance, and he has selected the optimal varieties from among these to breed into other standard lines of soy varieties. Last week’s ceremony was meant to celebrate the official release of two commercial varieties branded with the name “Sparta” that carry the resistant traits. Dr. Wang’s work has been supported by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) and the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee (MSPC).
What struck me as I listened to Dr. DiFonzo tell her story was that it was a perfect illustration of the land-grant concept. In fact, I related the story to some scholars visiting from Iraq immediately after the event to explain how the land-grant concept is meant to work: first, by being present in communities across the state and having relationships with soy growers across the state, growers and educators knew to bring the new challenge to our attention. So many times these new challenges come to us in this way: a stakeholder in the community contacts one of our educators or specialists with an astute observation about something that’s different. By having research scientists on faculty, we have folks like Dr. DiFonzo who can quickly diagnose that this really is something different and is a serious threat. That in turn triggered development of alternative pest management practices – developing pest scouting protocols, setting threshold action limits for application of pest controls, evaluating alternative pest controls, communicating those out to farmers, tracking their application and impacts, and stimulating research among basic scientists at Michigan State University who developed further mechanisms for managing the risks of this new threat. So there we were last week, 10 years after Dr. DiFonzo’s first contact with soybean aphids in Michigan, celebrating two more tools – long-term adaptations if you will – to this threat. And the response worked because we had all of the elements in place: the relationship with growers, the network for surveillance of pest distribution and densities, the set of scientists who could develop and evaluate both short-term and long-term responses, the relationship with organizations like MSPC that have an interest in rapid development of solutions, and a mechanism for communicating that intelligence among farmers who can put the new knowledge to work. The dual investment of federal, state, county and partner funds in MAES and MSU Extension shows its value when it works so well. Thanks to all who have been a part of this effort and congratulations to Dr. Wang on the release of this new genetic material into the tool kit for soy growers in Michigan and beyond.
Speaking of things cherry, Dr. Amy Iezzoni, Michigan State University Professor of Horticulture, was named the Cherry Industry Person of the Year by the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) in conjunction with the National Cherry Festival on July 6. Dr. Iezzoni is a plant geneticist and plant breeder who has focused her scholarship for more than 28 years on developing varieties of cherries that strengthen Michigan’s cherry industry. Dr. Iezzoni does not have an Extension appointment, but her position is funded largely by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and reflects the importance of our integration with MAES. Her close attention to industry needs is reflective of the MSUE and MAES commitments to respond to new challenges and opportunities we learn about through our relationships with industry partners like the CMI.
In addition to her own advancements in cherry genetics, Dr. Iezzoni has led a national effort to coordinate research and Extension work among geneticists and breeders with the wider array of plants that belong to the Rosaceae family, which includes apples, plums, peaches, pears and strawberries in addition to cherries. Their team was awarded a four-year, $14.4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant-funded research project that aims to use knowledge of plant genetics to improve the quality of cherries and other fruits in the globally important botanical family Rosaceae. The grant is the largest awarded by the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative since its inception in 2007. And the project includes an Extension mission that seeks to connect the findings of this broad array of scientists with industry needs and applications.
As a kid who enjoyed climbing our own tart cherry tree for the cherries my older siblings were too short to reach from the ground and too big to be supported by the tree branches, it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by cherries in daily work. I think I’d probably weigh considerably more than I do. But I certainly appreciate all that Amy has done to ensure that kids and consumers will have even better cherries to eat in the future – whether they pick them or buy them from a grocer or farm market. You can learn more about Amy’s work and award at http://anrcom.msu.edu/press/070110/070710_iezzoni.htm.