Dr. Brainard appreciates the amazing variety of crops, scales and philosophies Michigan has to offer

Dr. Dan Brainard has been with Michigan State since 2013 and really enjoys his colleagues and the close and productive relationships they have built with diverse vegetable growers in the state.

Dr. Brainard received his BA and MS degrees in Economics from Oberlin College (1987), and Stanford University (1992) before transitioning to formal Horticulture studies beginning in 1997. For his PhD (2002), he worked with Robin Bellinder at Cornell University where he studied weed management in vegetable cropping systems. He also held a post-doctoral research position at Cornell (2002-2004) with Toni DiTommaso and Chuck Mohler in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department with an emphasis on weed seedbank dynamics and seed biology.

Immediately after college, he worked for the US Peace Corps in Water Resource Management in Mali, West Africa. There he studied the Bambara language and culture and worked on various projects including development of irrigation systems for small scale vegetable farms. After returning to the US, he explored several different careers, working as an Economist and a High School Math and Science Teacher before gravitating towards vegetable farming. While teaching, he worked three summers on vegetable farms which sparked his interest in graduate school. After completing his PhD and post-doc, he worked for three years as a Senior Research Associate in Weed Ecology and Management in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell, before accepting his current position at MSU.

His position at Cornell was enjoyable, but mostly “soft money”, so he was spending more time than he liked writing grant proposals. In 2007, Michigan State had an opening in Sustainable Vegetable Production which had exactly the mix of research, extension and teaching I was looking for, so he applied, and was delighted to be offered the position. His primary teaching responsibility at MSU is HRT 341 (Vegetable Production and Management).

His research is focused primarily on integrated weed and soil management in vegetable production systems. He is particularly interested in the long-term impacts of reduced tillage and cover cropping practices on weeds, soils, crop yield and profitability. Through the Soil Health Institute, he is working in collaboration with Dr. Zack Hayden to assess changes in soil health indicators and weed communities in two long-term studies (initiated in 2009) with varying levels of tillage (standard vs reduced tillage), cover cropping (none vs intense), and weed management intensity (low vs high). Their goal is to identify optimal strategies to balance soil and weed management tradeoffs in a range of vegetable crops to help growers make more informed decisions. Recently, he has also expanded my efforts targeting non-chemical weed management strategies integrating novel mechanical cultivation tools with preventive approaches to weed seedbank management (e.g. cover cropping and stale seedbed practices). This work is aimed primarily at providing growers with additional tools as the costs of hand-weeding increase, as herbicide options become more limited in response to regulation, as consumers increase their demand for organics, and as herbicide resistance continues to develop.

He sees his primary goal as promoting critical scientific thinking among students and farmers. Another major goal is to convince the Dairy Store to produce more vegetable-based ice-cream flavors, beginning with Rhubarb, and working their way up to an asparagus-based “Spartan Green and White”!

Did you find this article useful?