By Lura Roti
Improving the entire rural landscape through research that enables farmers to take a holistic approach to field management is the bold vision that drives Mike Bredeson, a South Dakota State University doctorate student and the recipient of the $2,500 South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation Graduate Student Scholarship.
"Our rural communities are struggling for many reasons. Agriculture is the foundation of rural communities. If we can bolster our agricultural producers by helping them to diversify their operations, conserve natural resources and improve profitability, the result will be invigorated farm economies," explains Bredeson, a south-central Minnesota farmboy who is currently pursuing a doctorate in agroecology in the Natural Resource Management Department at SDSU.
Supporting students, like Bredeson, is the reason South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation awards a graduate school scholarship each year.
"Education is a focus of S.D. Farmers Union Foundation because it is key to the sustainability of agriculture and rural communities," says Doug Sombke, SDFU President and a fourth-generation Conde farmer.
A full-time student, married to a full-time student, Bredeson said the scholarship means a lot to him and his family.
"It's enormous. Although I do receive a stipend for my research work, it's small. My wife is also a graduate student, so this scholarship means a lot to us as we pursue our dreams," he says.
More about Mike Bredeson
Bredeson's interest in holistic agriculture took root during a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service lab in Brookings.
"I learned that the field of agricultural research is a complex and multifaceted system. I also gained an intimate understanding of how farm management impacts natural resource quality, wildlife, and ultimately, humans," Bredeson says.
He pursued an undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in botany and then received a master's of science in biology from SDSU in 2015.
Throughout his educational career, Bredeson's research has focused on agriculture management practices and whether or not they are sustainable. His master's research has focused on neonicotinoid insecticides, and whether or not pesticidal seed treatments are beneficial to sunflower yields. His research showed that insecticidal seed treatments do not improve farmers profitability and may actually hurt the sustainability of sunflower production by reducing the abundance of predatory and pollinating insects. His work is published.
Currently, he is working with the Brookings-based, nonprofit agriculture research lab, ECDYSIS, conducting research that deals with how to diversify the corn ecosystem in the U.S. by interseeding cover crops.
"Mike is a versatile and knowledgeable scientist who will not shy away from approaching complex experimental problems using novel tools and perspectives.
He is passionately committed to providing transformative, long-term and sustainable solutions to conservation-minded farming," said Jonathan Lundgren, Director Adjunct Faculty at South Dakota State University, Natural Resource Management Department, Department of Plant Science and Department of Biology and Microbiology.
Through his doctorate research at ECDYSIS, Bredeson said he is working to support the nonprofit's mission to work with pioneering producers interested in being profitable, while at the same time protecting natural resources.
"We're working with farmers who aren't interested in winning the highest corn yield contest, they want to diversify their farming system to be more stable economically and ecologically," Bredeson says. "Through holistic management practices, which add crop diversity and build soil health, we can improve a farmer's bottom line in a way that is sustainable while also striving to improve rural vitality."
He is excited about his work to diversify corn monocultures through interseeding cover crops. The concept is that by interseeding covercrops into corn, producers will receive many of the benefits found within a diversified cropping system. The project Bredeson is working on looks at how interseeding cover crops will impact insect communities, and specifically, how predatory insects affect corn pests when plant diversity is increased.
Bredeson said this research could have far-reaching impacts.
"Everyone who turns on the tap and drinks water benefits from an agriculture system that holds onto nutrients and requires fewer pesticides," he says.