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Extension educators and specialists receive awards at NACAA conference

Two weeks ago in an Aug. 11 Spotlight article, I told you about the tremendous involvement of our Michigan State University Extension colleagues in the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) and their Annual Meeting and Professional Conference. I promised you that I would describe the awards that were presented to these MSU Extension professionals at the conference Aug. 7–11 in Overland, Kan., and although it’s a week later than planned, I’m making good on that promise.

 Two Extension educators in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute earned the NACAA Distinguished Service Award for educators with more than ten years of service: Robert Bricault, Extension educator in Washtenaw County, and Warren Schauer, Extension educator in the Upper Peninsula.

 During 19 years in Extension, Robert Bricault served as an educator in consumer and commercial horticulture, and natural resources in southeastern Michigan. Bob worked to reduce phosphorus impacts on local rivers through a soil-testing initiative and helped develop an educational resource notebook on the emerald ash borer for each county in Michigan. He provides specialized training in diagnosing landscape problems.

 As business management educator, Warren Schauer served most of his 32-year Extension career delivering farm financial management and agricultural educational programs to clientele in the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Michigan. Significant programming includes farm financial analysis, business planning, estate planning, livestock marketing and wind energy programs. Warren has also been involved in the Agriculture for Tomorrow Conference, Annie’s Project, U.P. Youth Market Livestock recordkeeping project, Bay de Noc Gardening Conference, Master Gardener, and farm financial management seminars in the Ukraine, Africa and the eastern Caribbean.

 Tom Guthrie, Extension educator in Jackson County, received the NACAA Achievement Award given to educators with less than ten years of service. As a member of the MSU Extension Pork Area of Expertise team, Tom is responsible for developing statewide accessibility to swine management educational programming, which also includes environmental issues. Tom’s major educational programming initiatives include swine production management, utilization of Distiller’s Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS) in swine rations, environmental sustainability of pork operations and pork industry assurance programs. Tom also works with youth pork producers across the state.

 National finalists for “Search for Excellence in Crop Production” for “Sustainable Hops Production in the Great Lakes Region” were Robert Sirrine, Extension educator in the Greening Michigan Institute; Erin Lizotte, agriculture and agribusiness Extension educator at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station (NWMHRS); and Nikki Rothwell, district horticulturalist and NWMHRS coordinator. Through the program, the group of educators strives toward the goal of providing potential hops growers with an accurate assessment of the costs, challenges and opportunities for small-scale hops production in the Great Lakes Region by providing science-based growing and marketing information. The program has made significant progress toward this goal through grant-funded on-farm research, brewer surveys, educational programming, field days, and marketing and outreach. A significant investment in program evaluations has served to ensure that programming efforts remain relevant and timely. Results demonstrate increased knowledge in hops production and processing, and confidence in growing and marketing hops. Small-scale hops production has and will continue to provide economic development opportunities in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes Region. 

 Robert Sirrine; Cheryl Peters, Extension specialist; Nikki Rothwell; Erin Lizotte; Stan Moore, Extension educator; and Duke Elsner, Extension educator; were state winners for “Search for Excellence in Young, Beginner, or Small Farmers/Ranchers” for “Northwest Michigan New FARM Program.” It’s becoming harder for young people to enter and stay in the farming profession due to lack of farm transfers, the decline of traditional processing markets, residential development, increasing land costs and other financial difficulties. The Northwest Michigan New FARM (Farmer Assistance and Resource Management) Program is designed to assist beginning farmers, increase economic viability, maintain and enhance environmental stewardship and conserve northwestern Michigan’s rural character. Forty beginning farmers from northwestern Michigan’s five-county area were selected to participate in this comprehensive two-year program. A series of eleven workshops and four educational trips will educate these young farmers with the ultimate goal of a future of viable and sustainable agriculture in northwestern Michigan.

 Tom Dudek, senior Extension educator, and Charles Gould, Extension educator, were poster presentations finalists for “Determining Nutrient Removal Rates for Selected Herbaceous Perennial Crops.” Data generated from the study presented will be used by growers to comply with Michigan’s Right to Farm guidelines with respect to phosphorus applications to their farms.

 Duke Elsner and Mogens Nielsen, MSU adjunct curator, were poster presentations finalists for “Encouraging Citizen Science Activity to Obtain Data on Butterfly Distribution in Michigan.” Mogens’ book “Michigan Butterflies & Skippers” (E2675) was first published in 1999. Although he gathered information through many decades of personal study and examination of museum specimens, county distribution data appeared to be incomplete. Readers were asked to become “citizen scientists” and examine their personal collections in an effort to gain complete and accurate county distribution data. The data collected from this process was extensive enough to remove one species from the “special concern” list in the state.

 Many of our colleagues won communications awards.

 Phil Durst, Extension dairy educator, was state winner and regional finalist for an audio recording. Phil wrote the “Dairy Moosings” podcasts, which were reviewed by researchers. Phil and Stan Moore recorded, edited and produced the podcasts. You can find them on the MSU Dairy Team website at http://dairyteam.msu.edu/. The podcasts are published in Libsyn (http://dairymoosings.libsyn.com/webpage) in a library of Dairy Moosings podcasts and are available for RSS feeds. The podcasts, “Bovine Leukosis Virus: More Bark Than Bite?” and “High Production and Reproduction: Do the Two Mix?” present current dairy management research information in an interesting and adaptable format, accessible when and where producers want it.

 Robert Sirrine and Annette Kleinschmit, Leelanau County Extension administrative assistant, were state winners for a program promotional piece. Twenty promotional pieces were displayed at area Extension offices, grocery stores and other locales to promote the 2010 Hops Field Day and Tour. The event was also publicized on a weekly radio program and sent out via email and mail in a monthly agriculture newsletter. As a result of this promotion and marketing, 53 participants enrolled in the session.

 Duke Elsner was a state winner for a feature story that appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Field crop production is often overlooked in the Grand Traverse Bay region where most media coverage focuses on cherry and wine grape production. In the summer of 2010, it became clear that the region’s field corn crop was going to be at record-setting levels. Duke called attention to this agricultural achievement by preparing a feature article about the types of corn grown in the country, the numerous uses for corn and the significance of corn production in the local area.

 Extension educators Diane Brown-Rytlewski and Bruce Mackellar were state winners and national finalists for a team newsletter that is distributed to commercial fruit, vegetable and field crop growers in Berrien County and other parts of southwestern Michigan. Copies are printed and mailed to a list of more than 500 subscribers, and the publication is also available via email or at the Extension office. Created three to four times per year, the newsletter provides timely meeting notifications and other information pertinent to growers and others involved with commercial crop production.

 Dennis Pennington, Extension educator, was state winner and regional finalist for a bioenergy website, developed to address a key gap in delivering information to farmers and Extension educators. Existing MSU bioenergy websites focused on current research and grants but did not include general information about what bioenergy is, what the potential crops are, and how these crops can be processed into energy. This site conveys this general information as well as current results from applied research, national policy objectives, economics of production and links to external resources. The site is also used to share speaker presentations from various events. Visit the website at http://bioenergy.msu.edu/.

 Erin Lizotte, Nikki Rothwell and Extension educators Phil Tocco and Jane Herbert were state winners and regional finalists for a learning module. As farmers continue to struggle with GAPs (good agricultural practices) and new food safety standards, it has become necessary to train growers step by step about food safety. A Web series was launched designed to get growers one step closer to GAP certification. A compilation of fact sheets, video clips and a GAP Manual Template were bundled on a CD (the learning module), and a graphical user interface was developed to guide producers with a limited access to the Web.

 Phil Tocco was a state winner for a video recording, which is part of the Web series described above.

 Phil Tocco and Jane Herbert were state winners for a fact sheet. Food safety has become a significant issue among produce growers in Michigan. Of particular concern has been the lack of a uniform action threshold among auditing agencies concerning irrigation water quality. Working with water quality educators and specialists in Michigan, the food safety Extension group vetted two standards in use within the U.S. relating to irrigation water, then wrote a fact sheet to aid growers in adopting a standard. Drafted in August of 2010, the factsheet has been distributed online and in various grower meetings to at least 150 individuals.

 Congratulations to all of our winners! Our colleagues in NACAA do a great job of modeling creativity, innovation and teamwork.

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I Know MI Numbers featured at Ag Expo

As you know, Michigan State University Extension is implementing the I Know MI Numbers initiative, focusing on five targeted programs among many identified as critical to the state’s future on Gov. Rick Snyder’s dashboard. MSU Extension staff members educated the public about each issue in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources tent and the MSU Extension Bookstore tent at Ag ExpoJuly 19–21. In temperatures in the 90s with humidity that led to heat indexes in the 100s, our dedicated staff soldiered on to encourage attendees to improve their quality of life.

MSU Extension Bookstore tent

MSU Extension Bookstore tent

At the MSU Extension Bookstore tent, Ag Expo attendees could purchase soil test kits. The kits make it easy for gardeners to get quick results and information when they send in their soil samples through Extension to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab. Mary Wilson, MSU Extension consumer horticulture educator and state coordinator of the MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, was on hand in the CANR tent to explain the process. Using the soil test results, gardeners can more accurately determine the amount of fertilizers and herbicides to use – lessening the chance of overuse. This would reduce runoff, improving water quality – a goal of the I Know MI Numbers targeted program: Agriculture That Protects Michigan’s Waters. We’d like to see Michigan’s water index moving higher than 88, on a scale of 100. (If you missed getting a soil test kit, you can still get one at the MSU Extension Bookstore at bookstore.msue.msu.edu.) Staff involved with the water quality initiative staffed a display at the CANR tent as well. And during Ag Expo, many demonstrations throughout the three-day event focused on agriculture that improves water quality. We have nearly 60 programs or events throughout the state that focus on key water-quality issues.

Agriculture That Protects Michigan's Waters

Agriculture That Protects Michigan's Waters exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

In the CANR tent, Extension staff members measured visitors’ height and weight to help them determine their BMI (body mass index). Staff members were ready to talk nutrition and healthy habits with attendees. Reducing adult obesity is a targeted program that aims at reaching 8,000 people across the state to make healthy changes in their behavior. In Genesee and Saginaw counties, 35 adult obesity prevention/reduction classes reach hundreds of adults with information to help them improve their BMI.

Reducing adult obesity

Reducing adult obesity exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed aims at helping local officials address the fiscal crisis and reduce the cost of government. Michigan residents attending Ag Expo could determine their local fiscal health number (by checking a chart on the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website, created by MSUE) and compare it to other communities. They then placed a colored tack on a map that represented one of three categories: neutral, watch or stress. The goal of this targeted program is to have all communities fall in the neutral category, a number between zero and four. Extension is partnering with the governor and the Michigan Department of Treasury to educate Michigan residents about fiscal health.

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed

Helping Our Cities and Towns Succeed exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Increasing early childhood literacy focuses on Michigan children entering kindergarten with the skills they need in order to be reading at grade level by the third grade. In the CANR tent, a children’s story hour took place every hour. After listening to the story, a child could choose a free book to take home. MSU Extension has held five events since June in which children and parents focused on developing pre-reading skills. And we’ll be distributing up to 500,000 books donated by First Book to youth living in low-income situations.

Increasing Early Childhood Literacy

Increasing Early Childhood Literacy exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander

MSU Extension is helping to improve science literacy by supporting teachers with resources, experiments and lesson plans that align with Michigan Science Education standards and coordinating 4-H Science Blast and 4-H National Youth Science Day. Kids who attended Ag Expo participated in two water-quality science experiments and the Fashion-a-Fish project activity to improve their own science literacy.

Improving Science Literacy

Improving Science Literacy exhibit. Photo by Katie Alexander.

Thanks to all who participated in making it possible to get the word out about the I Know MI Numbers initiative at Ag Expo.

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‘I Know MI Numbers’ to improve Michigan’s future

Since its founding, Michigan State University Extension has, in all areas of endeavor, led Michigan residents forward by improving their lives. Today, Michigan residents face crucial issues that affect their quality of life including rising levels of obesity, low achievement in science literacy, threats to water quality, children unprepared for school, and cities and townships facing bankruptcy in a tenuous economic recovery.

 MSUE’s “I Know MI Numbers” (pronounced “I know my numbers”) initiative will inspire residents to be active participants in understanding the “numbers” that translate into healthier living, productive and sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment, educational achievement and good local government. Our final goal is a state that is thriving and successful.

 We’ll execute five programs over the next six to nine months through the “I Know MI Numbers” initiative. The programs relate to areas highlighted as priorities in Gov. Rick Snyder’s dashboard, which measures Michigan’s performance relative to other states and relative to our past in order to be able to measure improvements. This idea of keeping track by numbers is familiar to us in Extension as we continuously seek to measure the impact of our work in numbers and in stories. By focusing on five key areas in an intense effort, we intend to make a difference, demonstrating that we take the dashboard seriously, we take our mission seriously in helping Michigan to improve, and we hold ourselves accountable.

 As you all know, this is not the only work we’ll be doing over the next six months. Rather, these projects help to draw attention to the impact and relevance of our programs. We will feature other work that is underway, such as our work in community food systems, that will be showing impacts over a longer time horizon. The projects we’re featuring now are ones that help us to show our ability to respond and achieve impacts in a short time.

 The programs include:

 Agriculture that Protects Michigan’s Waters

The first bill that Gov. Snyder signed into law was the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program legislation. In signing it, he called attention to the importance of agriculture in Michigan’s economic recovery and the innovation of Michigan agriculturalists in taking on responsibility for practices that protect and enhance Michigan’s natural resources. Water is a tremendous resource in Michigan for agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and recreation. Clean and safe water resources are crucial to our quality of life and a bright economic future. And water quality is one of the 21 metrics on the governor’s dashboard. MSU Extension staff members will work with farmers to educate them about and help them to implement practices that reduce the flow of nutrients and pesticides to the water supply. MSU Extension will implement educational programs during the growing season and measure the impacts so that by the end of the growing season, we can collect measurable outcome data that directly correspond to improved water quality.

 Reducing Adult Obesity

Obesity leads to chronic disease and affects quality of life. Educational programming can help people change their behavior and in doing so can improve their own health. Our science-based education program aims to reduce the BMI (Body Mass Index) of individuals in Genesee and Saginaw counties, where obesity levels are the highest in the state. Working with faith-based organizations, worksites and through its existing programming, MSU Extension will lead nutrition education classes with an increased emphasis on obesity reduction. Our goal is to reach 8,000 people before the end of the year, changing behaviors and improving health, and demonstrating to participants and to decision makers if significant changes have been achieved.

 Helping our Cities and Towns Succeed

MSU Extension educators, working with partners from the legal and financial sectors, are providing the educational foundation for local officials to use tools provided by the governor and Legislature to address the fiscal crisis, improving the quality of service and reducing the cost of government. Extension staff members will provide workshops and trainings on topics such as the new emergency financial manager law, legal contracts, health care management, turnaround plans, local finance, local government cooperation and consolidation, school law and finance, and municipal bankruptcy.

 Increasing Early Childhood Literacy

More than a third of children enter kindergarten without the skills needed to benefit from the instruction they receive. MSU Extension is partnering with the Molina Foundation to distribute 50,000 books across Michigan. Combined with other learning resources that will be included, parents and caregivers will have the resources they need to better prepare young children for success in school and life. Supporting literacy education is how MSU Extension will help our youngest citizens to be reading at grade level by the third grade.

 Improving Science Literacy

MSU Extension has a long history of providing science education in a nonformal setting that uses an experiential, learn-by-doing method. Since science literacy for school-aged youth in Michigan is below the national average, we plan to help rectify the situation by supporting teachers across Michigan with resources, experiments and lesson plans around three science focus areas: biology (animal and veterinary sciences), plant sciences and environmental sciences (including bioenergy). MSU Extension will provide resource packets to teachers along with training in how to incorporate the resources into their classroom lessons. The materials will align with Michigan Science Education Standards by grade. MSUE staff members will coordinate 4‑H Science Blast and National 4-H Youth Science Day events across Michigan.

 Staff members are hard at work making these programs a reality. We expect initial results to be reported as early as fall 2011.

 View the video below on the “I Know MI Numbers” campaign produced by Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications. It will play on virtually any browser and will also play on most IPhone and Android smart phones. Its narrator is not the most charismatic speaker, but I hope he gets the point across that we mean business when it comes to making a difference in Michigan.

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