MSU Extension Home Garden Soil Testing Services is awarded the Michigan Council of Extension Associations John A. Hannah Award for Program Excellence

MSU Extension Home Garden Soil Testing Services received the John A. Hannah Award from MSU Extension during the annual Fall Extension Conference held virtually on Sept. 29.

The John A. Hannah Award recognizes superior Extension programs that are developed and carried out by MSU Extension professional staff members who are appointed by the MSU Board of Trustees. It is considered the most prestigious of the Extension awards as it recognizes the excellence of the program.

The MSU Extension Home Garden Soil Testing Services team is made of Bindu Bhakta, Bert Cregg, Jon Dahl, Irene Donne, Rebecca Finneran, Kevin Frank, Lori Imboden, Allen Krizek, Mark Longstroth, Jeremy Lounds, Laura Probyn, Heather Rouse, and Mary Wilson.

Serving Michigan gardeners through high-quality soil testing has long been a hallmark for Michigan State University. Testing soil leads to more accurate application of fertilizers that, if misapplied, have a negative effect on water quality and the environment. Soil testing was at first a labor-intensive process of handling the soil samples, transporting to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient (SPN) Lab, and hand interpreting. The process not only consumed staff time but also, in some cases, delayed clients’ results. The development of the MSU soil test website in 2008 and the soil test self-mailer in 2011 allowed greater accessibility of soil-testing services, greatly improving the process.

In 2017, an effort began to elevate the soil testing services to bring it to a new level. In addition, there was interest from other states to purchase the software. The MSU team began the process of redesigning and upgrading the MSU soil test website to increase program stability, security, and accessibility; meet stakeholder demand for soil testing services; continue bringing value-added services to counties across the state; and increase the market potential to generate revenue through software sales to other universities. The MSU SPN Lab is also experiencing an increasing number of soil test mailer sales to out-of-state clientele with clientele currently from 33 states. With the demand, steady income will be generated that can enhance infrastructure and maintenance, making the product sustainable for future growth.

The soil test mailer was also updated. The team has provided advanced soils and testing training for MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers who provide customer support through the toll-free hotline or 24/7 online Ask an Expert.

The John A. Hannah Award recognizes superior Extension programs that are developed and carried out by MSU Extension professional staff members who are appointed by the MSU Board of Trustees. Through these products and services, the MSU Extension Home Garden Soil Testing Services Team serves all Michigan communities, as well as some out of state, in a cost-effective, user-friendly, environmentally sound way.

The award was established when Dr. John Hannah retired as president of Michigan State University. The members of the agent and specialist associations voluntarily contributed funds for a “suitable memorial to Dr. Hannah that would encourage professional achievement among Extension staff.” The earnings from these gifts, plus any further gifts are used to support the award.

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