Tag Archives: michigan agricultural experiment station

Federal budget agreement for 2011 nearly settled

The last-minute agreement between leaders in Congress and President Obama last Friday night avoided a government shutdown and finally settled negotiations on the budget for fiscal year 2011.  Yep, that’s the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.  Although it was good to know they reached an agreement, we didn’t really know the details and how they would affect our budgets until Tuesday this week. And the news was even better on Tuesday.  The core funding for Cooperative Extension that comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Budget is authorized under the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established the national Cooperative Extension System.

In the budget settlement, Smith-Lever funding for this year is reduced by 1.2%.  That was great news in light of the version that had passed the House of Representatives in late February. In that version, our funding would have been reduced by 10%, which would have forced us to figure out how to reduce our budget by $900,000 with a handful of months left in the fiscal year. Instead, we have a much more manageable reduction to absorb, and we can accomplish that with the changes we’ve been implementing anyway.  Congress still needs to approve the deal, and that is expected to happen today or tomorrow.

Now our attention turns to the budget for FY 2012, and Congress is just getting started on that process. It will likely be as contentious as the FY 2011 budget process.  President Obama released his proposed budget back in February, and in that, the funding for Extension was targeted for a 5% reduction.  Given the politics of the budget, it’s likely the House will begin at 5% or an even larger cut in their proposed budget for FY 2012.  It’s doubtful that Congress and the President will come to agreement soon, and there’s a good chance we may end up in a similar circumstance to this year, with the budget decision put off until after the start of the fiscal year.  We’ll plan conservatively in that case so we aren’t caught with needing to make a significant budget cut well into the new year.

On the state front, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed out their funding bill for 2012 yesterday, and accepted the 15% reduction Gov. Snyder had proposed for MSUE and AgBioResearch funding. They also accepted the combination of MSUE and Michigan AgBioResearch funding into one line. They tweaked the funding for MSU and the other universities, cutting them all by 14% and then distributing the other 1% reduction unevenly among the universities, with universities that have a higher per student appropriation (like MSU, University of Michigan, Wayne State) taking a larger share of the remaining 1% and other universities taking a lower share.  The Senate has not passed out their bill for higher education, but their subcommittee held a hearing yesterday at which MSU President Lou Anna Simon and Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood spoke in support of the combination of the two funding lines into one and announced a summit that will be held this summer to bring representatives of state government, agriculture industries and MSU together to identify key strategic priorities for research, extension and education for production agriculture in the years ahead.  With this in the plans, both presidents encouraged the Senators on the subcommittee to avoid being very specific in their prescription of how the funding should be allocated among the various programs for research and Extension.

There is still a series of votes that will be required before our state appropriation is settled for the next fiscal year, but the early movement of bills like the one from the House subcommittee yesterday is encouraging. Gov. Snyder continues to say he wants the budget settled by June 1, and legislative leaders continue to say they would like that but are more optimistic about getting it done by the end of June. Either circumstance would be a welcome change from the years in which we didn’t know our budgets until after Oct. 1.

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Distinguished service awards presented at ANR luncheon

Michigan State University (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) honored Charlotte Louise Wenham and John Amos with distinguished service awards at the annual Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Week luncheon held March 8 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.

Charlotte Louise Wenham is an MSU alumna, having earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and a master’s in English. She also earned a doctorate in education administration from Western Michigan University. She has served as teacher, middle school principal, curriculum director and assistant superintendent in the St. Joseph Public Schools. She currently is a partner in Wood, Wenham & Henderson, through which she acts as a consultant, working with Michigan school districts, small businesses and non-profits.

Charlotte served as president of the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph Rotary Club, a member of the Berrien County MSU Extension Council and a member of the Michigan State Extension and Experiment Station Council, representing Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, along with the Southwest Research and Extension Center, the Kellogg Biological Station and the Kellogg Experimental Forest.

In the last six years, she has volunteered as a citizen advocate for MSUE, AgBioResearch and the CANR as a Michigan delegate to the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET), which meets annually in Washington D.C. to learn about national impacts of Cooperative Extension programs and research from land-grant universities and how federal policies and funding affect the land-grant systems. She is a very effective advocate for our programs and can cite a number of programs and impacts that have made a difference in Michigan. She also contacts congressional offices at other times of the year to discuss the importance of MSUE and AgBioResearch programs and issues ranging from annual United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget bills to farm program legislation and special grant appropriations requests.

Charlotte has received the Outstanding Leadership Award from the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph Rotary Club; both state and local Outstanding Leader citations from the Delta Kappa Gamma Society, a professional society for women in education; an Above and Beyond Award from the rotary club and the Volunteer of the Year Award from Planned Parenthood of Mid-Michigan. Thanks, Char for all you do to support our work!

John Amos is owner of Amos Farms, a fruit-growing operation in the Williamsburg/Elk Rapids area. He and his family assisted the research of MSU Extension and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (now MSU AgBioResearch), by supplying trees, application equipment and crews to collect harvest data for a six-year study of the chemical, ethephon. John went so far as to adjust his harvesting program to accommodate the researchers’ needs. Data collected from the research were the basis for ethephon’s eventual commercial use. John continuously offers his farm for studies and contributes to MSU’s research programs.

He and his wife, Pat, have hosted numerous foreign students, having them gain experience interning on their farm.

 For 20 years, he has volunteered for the Weather Service Cooperative Program, recording temperature and rainfall measurements. This valuable work allows growers to make educated decisions regarding applying sprays, irrigating and other tasks. The information he collected was recently incorporated into the MSU Agricultural Weather Network. He received the Outstanding Service Award from the Department of Commerce and National Weather Service Program.

John is a long-term active member of the MSU Horticulture Society, a member of the Whitewater Township Board and chair for the Elk Rapids Fire Department. Thanks, John, for helping to support our research and Extension programs and for opening your farm to our scientists and educators!

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Buhler recommended as CANR interim dean

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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MSUE wordmark available on ANR Communications website

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 anrcom@msu.edu.

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Sign up now for writing grants workshop

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.

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State Budget completed on time!

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!

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Grazing school in Lake City educates producers

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.

Jerry Lindquist discusses various forage plants.

Jerry Lindquist, MSU Extension specialist, discusses the various forage plants found in pastures during the MSUE grazing school. Photo by Robin Usborne

 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.

Jason Rowntree, MSU animal scientist, talks about research on pasture management.

Jason Rowntree, MSU animal scientist, talks about research on pasture management to participants at the MSUE grazing school. Photo by Robin Usborne

 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.

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The more things change…..

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.


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State appropriations process back in play

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.

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A 21st century illustration of the land-grant idea

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.


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