AFRE Alumna Working to Increase Climate Smart Practices on Michigan Farms

Alumna Lisa Woodke at Star of the West describes a major USDA project to foster climate-smart farming practices in Michigan food crops.

A research team led by AFRE alumna and Star of the West Milling Co. sustainability director, Lisa Woodke, has received a $4.9M grant to educate and encourage beginning and women farmers on using climate-smart practices. The project, which is called “A Climate Smart Strategy for the Michigan Foodshed: Nourishing our Land, Farmers, and Rural Communities,” will be carried out over five years.

Star of the West is the 11th largest miller in the U.S., with five flour mills in four different states. Woodke was hired to lead the company’s sustainability efforts across four areas: corporate, edible beans and elevators, milling operations, and agronomy facilities. For the past three years as sustainability director, she has worked to increase and facilitate current sustainability projects among Michigan growers.

Woodke will work with Julie Doll, Ph.D., CEO of Michigan Agricultural Advancement (MiAA) in leading the project team.

This project will focus on beginning and women farmers who grow wheat, dry beans, food grade soybeans, and oats. Throughout the five-year grant, the project team will work to document and reward climate-smart management practices being implemented on Michigan Farms.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) involves producers using an integrated approach to farm management that can help agriculture address the challenges of food security and climate change. Woodke and Doll will work with Michigan growers to specifically increase their Truterra tool score. Truterra scores evaluate an operation’s sustainability practices with a score range from 0 to 100. A higher number indicates a more efficient, sustainable operation.

“The hardest part will be getting all of the data into the system,” said Woodke. “We are bringing on a climate smart agronomist who will work on the farm with growers, talk through their choices that they will make, and discuss any options for additional assistance.”

Star of the West will then be able to help food companies source these climate-smart grains for use in their products.

“Part of this process is sharing data from farms with food companies to figure our what pricing levels might look like,” said Woodke. “Figuring out all of the tipping points of price scale will help farmers get more for their grain as well.”

Woodke also plans to ensure the climate smart practices will help with food access and will keep more Michigan grown food in Michigan. She would like to see an increase in Michigan-grown food products, which are intended for human consumption, over feed products, which are intended for livestock.

“The goal behind this grant is to help Michigan farmers grow food products versus feed products,” said Woodke. Julie and I are excited about helping with food access and keeping Michigan grown food in Michigan; and from a climate perspective, it helps with so many things.”

Star of the West and MiAA will also partner with Artisan Grain Collaborative and Shiftology Communication, who will help identify barriers and opportunities among producers, while also providing an outlet for sharing stories of Michigan Farmers.

Beyond the farm, Woodke and Doll also have their sights set on engaging with Michigan youth and next generation farmers through Michigan FFA, collegiate ag students and Michigan Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer program.

“Sustainability is not new, but climate smart is,” said Woodke. “We wanted to make sure we engage with the next generation to help them learn about what climate smart practices require.”

Star of the West and MiAA expect to begin work on the grant in January. Woodke and Doll’s first steps will be forming an advisory committee consisting of representatives from Hasenick Brothers Farm, Kellogg Biological Station Long Term Agroecosystem Research, Midwest GRIT, Van Buren County Conservation District, Wisconsin Women in Conservation, and the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. Woodke says, “We're excited to meet with the advisory board to roll out the hiring of the climate smart agronomist and the intern, and then start working with farmers.”

Woodke is an AFRE Agribusiness Management alumna from 2002. She joined Star of the West in 2019 and currently serves as its Sustainability Director. She also chairs the board of directors of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Alumni Association. Throughout her career, Woodke has developed a strong passion for outreach to producers, consumers, and youth with goal of representing everyone throughout the food production chain. She also encourages other alumni to stay engaged with the next generation by interacting with MSU and its students.

“Just reach out to one person at Michigan State,” Woodke said. “Even if you only speak to one class, one time a year, it’s great for the students to be able to interact with someone that's in the workforce, doing what it is that they would like to do or finding out that there's something new that they don't know about.”

Funding for Wodke’s grant is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities. USDA is investing more the $3.1 billion in climate-smart focused projects. The full list of funded projects can be found here.

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