Showcasing crop potential in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

A recently-awarded grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development seeks to determine the agronomic potential in the U.P.

Historically, crops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula consisted of hay, small grains and potatoes. These crops and associated varieties are often chosen based on tried and true experience in the extreme northern latitude climate. However, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recently challenged the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center to launch a multi-species variety trial program in the effort to bring new crop options to the U.P. The Research and Extension Center, established in 1899 and located in Chatham, Michigan, was awarded $100,000 for this endeavor.

This spring, Center staff have been very busy (overcoming the challenging late spring) to get nearly 200 varieties of field crops and diversified vegetable crops in the ground. In order to stay true to the Center’s research mission, many of the crops were chosen because of their potential benefits to the local food system.

The field crops include spring wheat (11 varieties), winter wheat (18 varieties, to be planted), barley (23 varieties), winter rye (6 varieties, to be planted), oats (19 varieties), field peas (9 varieties), dry beans (7 black varieties), forages (12 grass and 12 alfalfa varieties), BMR (brown midrib) forage sorghum (5 varieties) and cover crops (8 species). Many of these crops lack research-based data on varietal performance due to the remote nature of the region; the Center is hoping to reach out to producers so that they can become better educated on varieties that perform well in the U.P.

The vegetable crops will be planted at the North Farm site, home to the Farm Incubator, an educational effort to stimulate growth of new farmers in the U.P. producing food for the local food system. Six cool-season (carrot, beet, cabbage, Brussel sprout, rutabaga, and parsnip) and six warm season (tomato, onion, eggplant, winter squash, summer squash and turnip) crops were identified for the variety trial with about four varieties of each crop.

To highlight the field crop varieties, the Center is hosting an “Open Farm” Field Day on Saturday, July 26, 2014 from 1 – 4 p.m. Two highlights of the event are the forage and malting barley trials, and Dr. Kim Cassida and Dr. Russ Freed, researchers from MSU, will join us to discuss varieties and answer questions from producers.

The Research and Extension Center is excited about the relationship with MDARD, and one employee said, “I hope the continued partnership will ensure timely crop research is delivered to under-served residents of the U.P. agricultural community, and will have a positive effect on our local food systems.”

Question can be directed to Ashley McFarland, Michigan State University Extension employee and Coordinator at the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center at 906-439-5176 or   

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