St. Joseph County program highlights 2018

Michigan State University Extension in St. Joseph County supports the agriculture industry.

Supporting the agriculture industry

Agriculture continues to be a growing economic driver in St Joseph County and the investment by the county and MSU Extension in providing relevant and timely information to the ag community demonstrates our commitment to this vital industry. Some highlights of the work of local staff in 2018 include:

Pest management tends to be a topic where there are so many types of pests and so many variables, access to new information and refreshers are a necessity. Two preseason sessions on integrated pest management were held and during the growing season, moth traps were placed and monitored for important insect pest species and reported trap counts in weekly newsletters to alert farmers of peak flight periods.

Conducted an on-farm demonstration of weed control strategies in soybean in St. Joseph and Calhoun Counties. The demonstration was funded by a grant from the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee. A short video highlighting one of the fields was produced to YouTube and two others are in different stages of production. Two field days were held to highlight the results of the study as well as showcase presentations by MSU Extension Specialists Educators on other soybean topics. The meeting in St. Joseph County was co-hosted by the local MAEAP technician. 47 Attendees from around southwest Michigan included those from St. Joseph.

A breakfast meeting series was held in the spring on a wide range of topics affecting row-crop agriculture presently and in the future. Total attendance included 36 participants from five counties including 24 from St. Joseph. Taped Interviews with the guest speakers, newsletter articles about best management practices highlighted during the series were accessed by producers via the web throughout the year.

“Tools for Navigating a Challenging Farm Economy” was a program organized with the help of a stakeholder planning committee. Speakers included an MSU Extension farm finance educator, a local grain marketing agribusiness professional, two farm insurance representatives, and Rep. Aaron Miller. Eleven participants from St. Joseph and from 1 Kalamazoo county attended the workshop.

A regular email newsletter update is mailed weekly during the cropping season, then semi-weekly or monthly to a growing list of local farmers and agribusiness professionals (485 currently) highlighting upcoming MSU programming and other timely information important for crop producers in St. Joseph County and southwest Michigan.

Ag awareness program creates lasting impressions

Children living in urban settings typically are not aware of where their food comes from. Even when they reside in a largely agricultural county, they do not have personal experience with how crops are grown and livestock are raised. It is important for children to understand this issue not only in the short-term but, as they grow up and influence society in different ways, it is also important for the long-term sustainability of agriculture in an increasingly urbanized world.

Since 1990 MSU Extension has worked with community partners to offer “Ag-Citing” a two hour educational program for 3rd graders to learn about food and animal production. In 2018, 31 classes from 13 schools with a total of 676 students and 89 chaperones attended the program. Forty-seven volunteers contributed 135 hours of time including the St. Joseph Valley Old Engine Association who volunteered their time and use of their antique tractors to pull hay wagons for the program and the St. Joseph County Sherriff’s Posse. This year’s program repeated five times over three days. Linda Kline, community nutrition instructor and Eric Anderson, field crops educator worked together to manage the program and coordinate volunteers. The emphasis this year was “from farm to table”. In addition, the youth listened to the experiences of the Sherriff’s Posse who spoke about their mounts and how many officers and horses serve our county.

Feedback for this event from the youth, teachers and volunteers continues to be overwhelmingly positive and is consistent across those who have been involved with the program for many years to those who just joined the program this year. The kids report that they love the hands on activities and getting experience new things. They especially appreciated learning about different animals, seeing baby animals born in the birthing tent, petting animals, and the hayride through the fairgrounds - something many of them had never done before.

It is difficult to measure long-term impact, but one example gives a glimpse of the influence the program has had. One of the volunteers who has helped for the past two years remembers that his grandpa was the tractor driver when he went on the Ag-Citing tour roughly 20 years ago. Although he doesn't farm, that connection to the program is the reason he decided to take time off of work and be a tour guide for every time block this year.

An additional impact of the program was a new partnership with Centreville Public Schools to provide nutrition and physical activity education to 3rd grade classrooms during the school year— further developing MSU Extensions educational impact in the county.

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