|By KEVIN WALKER
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Scientists and organic growers are on the move again promoting alternatives to conventional crop production, and researching ways to improve these alternatives.
Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have been awarded a $754,000 grant from the USDA to do research on organic production methods. An interdisciplinary team of scientists led by MSU Associate Professor of horticulture Sieglinde Snapp will conduct the research.
The first part of the research will be to determine what organic farmers in Michigan need the most help with. According to Snapp, the biological management of nutrients and insects would be high on most farmers’ lists, as well as research on marketing and weather variability.
“The challenges faced by farmers are increasingly complex, and require a partnership between farmers and researchers to develop a shared understanding of problems,” Snapp said. “This is why researchers have developed participatory research methods to facilitate farmer involvement in an efficient way.
“Developing improved methods to predict nitrogen release from organic sources such as manure and cover crops is one of the major goals of our new organic grant,” Snapp added. “This will benefit all farmers interested in fine-tuning soil nitrogen supply to crop demand for a cost effective fertilization strategy.”
Although this research focuses on organic, both organic and conventional growers will benefit from this research, according to Snapp.
Snapp has long been interested in using ecological concepts in agriculture, or agro-ecology.
She defines ecology as the science of systems, while agro-ecology applies knowledge from biology, chemistry and physics to agricultural systems.
Research done with this grant will be linked to long-term studies being conducted now on organic field crop and vegetable production. These studies are taking place at the MSU Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, Mich. and on the East Lansing, Mich. campus, respectively.
Other MSU scientists involved in the project, called Partnering to Cultivate Organic Agriculture in Michigan and the Midwest, are Dale Mutch, MSU crop specialist; John Biernbaum, professor of horticulture; George Bird, professor of entomology and several others.
The research will also be conducted in conjunction with Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA) and Organic Growers of Michigan (OGM).
These nonprofit groups promote organic crop production and small farms, and will play a role in getting the word out about the research and the need for more organic farms, said Pat Whetham, vice chair of MOFFA and certification director for OGM.
Whetham said that OGM will help locate experienced organic producers to mentor those who are interested in going organic.
More information about the research topic is available online at www.safs.msu.edu/soilecology/index.htm
This Michigan farm news was published in the November 23, 2005 issue of Farm World.