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Michigan Plant Leaders Play Key Role in New Climate Resiliency Program

By Jack Falinski 

In 2016, leaders from the Michigan Plant Coalition — Michigan’s assembly of plant agriculture organizations and commodity groups — came together to discuss a subject each industry could relate to in some way: climate resiliency.

Whether they had already experienced issues relating to climate change, or they wanted to be proactive in the matter, Michigan plant industries wanted to protect their growers from climate challenges that seemed to be growing and imminent for many commodities.

The coalition had previously joined forces with Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to address plant needs through Project GREEEN, a partnership that recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary in assisting Michigan farmers and growers.

Amy Upton, executive director of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association, said based on the results Project GREEEN delivered, leaders wanted to develop a new initiative that would tackle longer-term projects centered around making plant industries more climate resilient.

“Some of the issues we’re seeing — mainly with soil, water and technology — are that they’re longer projects that span more than two years,” Upton said. “So, we asked, ‘What could we do to fund some of these longer-term projects that might take anywhere from four to eight years to conduct, and how could they benefit all of Michigan’s plant commodities?’”

The Agricultural Climate Resiliency Program, which was announced in February this year, is a collaborative effort made up of the Plant Coalition, MSU and MDARD designed to achieve insight and solutions for some of the longer-term projects Upton described.

A one-time $5 million allocation of funds put forward by MDARD will allow for four new, original 3-year projects addressing soil health, water and nutrient management, pest control and climate-smart agriculture techniques to operate through MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension.

“We need these projects to be spectacular, and we need them to take off at a running start,” Upton said, emphasizing the significant role they’ll play in providing Michigan plant industries with needed information to ensure future success. 

Upton said many of the plants found in nurseries and landscapes haven’t experienced the same climate challenges that some annual crops have. However, she said the industry shared the same desire as other plant industries to establish a program that could provide results pertinent to all plant commodities, safeguarding them for the future.

She said the Plant Coalition also engaged with Michigan’s animal commodity groups to affirm each industry remained informed and worked together.

“The program was thoughtfully developed,” Upton said. “We all share the same concerns with being able to use the water that’s in the state of Michigan, so anything we can do that enhances the sustainability of our precious water resource is going to help us all.”

Jim Zook, executive director of the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan, said by creating a systems approach in which research into topics like soil health and water quality are applied broadly across agricultural commodities, Michigan plant leaders have the chance to learn more on how their industries can effectively and sustainably work with the environment.

“We want to know what we can learn from all of these crops together and how we can make them better using information like soil and water quality,” Zook said. “This approach will allow us to incorporate technology to drive or measure those results more effectively.”

In addition to the investment of four new projects, MDARD will provide a recurring $1 million to support MSU faculty and staff through the launch of a cluster hire that will add key additional experts needed to form multidisciplinary teams to address future challenges identified by Plant Coalition partners. The hire will support six new faculty positions and two new MSU Extension positions. The MSU Office of Research and Innovation will provide funding toward faculty startup costs.

Dr. Tim Boring, MDARD director, said this new branch of collaboration — sprung from the existing alliance among the Plant Coalition, MSU and MDARD — will be essential for protecting Michigan’s diverse agricultural industries and their unique access to fresh water.

“Michigan growers grow more than one crop,” Boring said. “They’re flexible and dynamic with the ability to ramp up the production of different crops. That’s been a hallmark of what Michigan agriculture is about. It speaks to the cross-cutting need to make sure we have systems in place that build out our market capacity and create conditions for success on Michigan farms.”

Alongside an array of research areas, one space the climate resiliency program can position itself in is finding ways growers can adapt to intense weather pattern changes.

Michigan growers experienced a wet start to the 2023 growing season followed by drought conditions that took hold for a couple months. In Lansing, March and April brought 8.41 inches of precipitation, which was about 3 inches above average for those months, according to the National Weather Service. In May and June, however, Lansing received 1.85 inches of precipitation, which was about 5.5 inches below average.

“That variability and those extremes are probably going to increase in the future, so to have long-term, strategic plans for approaching drought resiliency and water availability will be critical for how we adapt to what the growing seasons hold in store for us moving forward,” Boring said.

Mark Seamon, research director of the Michigan Soybean Committee, echoed the importance this program will have in strengthening the understanding on how to manage crops during extreme weather conditions.

To go along with developing processes around irrigating and draining the land when there’s an excess or lack of water, Seamon said it’ll also be valuable to have research on how to prevent nutrients from escaping the soil during extreme conditions.

“We want to figure out how we can best utilize those nutrients in growing crops,” Seamon said. “Our interest, of course, is not to have those leave the farmland, but to keep those on the land because they’re mostly nutrients paid for by the farmer.” 

Source : msu.edu

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