CHATHAM, Mich. (WJMN) – The Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center has been around for over 120 years.
James DeDecker, Director of MSU UPREC, says UPREC is MSU’s oldest off-campus farm.
“We were started in 1899 and so we’ve been here for 121 years now and the mission really hasn’t changed all that much,” DeDecker said. “You know exactly what we’ve been focused on–whether crops or livestock or some combination of the two over the years has kind of shifted with the times, but we continue to be a diverse operation in that we have beef cattle, forage and field crops as well as now specialty crops, mostly vegetables and a few other things at the north farm.”
The goal of the farm is to conduct agricultural research, take what they learn and extend it to the community. Dedecker said the primary audience is farmers but some information can be used by gardeners or hobbyist that are growing plants or producing food.
James DeDecker explains some of the research that has happened over the years at UPREC.
Some of the farm’s recent work is focused on crops like hemp and barley.
“In the case of using barley for brewing, we’re looking at what’s called malting barley,” Dedecker said. “And so there are specific varieties and specific management practices that need to be put into place to result in the product that’s going to be appropriate for that use. So with barley testing, a lot of what we’ve done is variety testing.”
Watch this video to learn more about barley and MSU UPREC’s research on it.
Other projects include variety testing of produce, livestock and forage crops. Some of the things they produce the farm sells to local grocery stores and institutional outlets. This year, they will be selling the barley to Michigan brewers and distillers. The beef they produce is marketed in a grass-finished cooperative. DeDecker said they try to minimize their competition with local farmers by not selling at farmers markets or in a CSA and also by growing things that local farmers may not be growing as much of.
In the video, James DeDecker shares the scope of one project researching varieties of produce.
Research is also conducted on methods that include organic and conventional methods of farming. Dedecker said this is one thing that makes the farm unique.
“One thing that makes our operation unique, aside from the diversity of production systems, is that we also have a certified organic operation in the North Farm and a conventional agricultural operation in the South Farm which is pretty unusual because most farms sort of go one way or the other,” DeDecker said. “There are mixed operations, but its neat because it allows us to kind of look through both lenses rather than getting tied up in the dogma or the philosophy of the different approaches; just really understanding what works well in both of them and kind of finding the best of both worlds.”
James DeDecker explains the difference between organic and conventional farming methods.
Nine to ten full-time staff work at the farm depending on the time of year as well as some temporary staff members in the summer. There are also faculty members on campus at MSU that collaborate on research. MSU UPREC has partnerships with the University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Illinois, Perdue, Northern Michigan University and Lake Superior State University.
“It takes a lot of folks to do this work and that collaboration is really critical from an academic perspective too just to understand where people are coming from, what different needs or potential solutions for the problems that farmers in the industry encounter,” said Dedecker.
DeDecker says they are also always talking with colleagues and farmers from other parts of the state as well. There are differences in growing conditions and some practices that may be useful in other areas of the state may not be appropriate in the U.P.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge but sometimes it’s a real benefit too,” said DeDecker. “One of the things I love about working in Northern Latitudes is for pest management because a lot of pests develop according to temperature, what we call growing degree days which is a cumulation of heat units throughout the year. So oftentimes, we can look downstate and see what problems are coming and we get sort of advanced warning and can understand how bad it is, what some of the causes or solutions may be and then be prepared when it gets here to implement those things. Whether that’s within the course of a season or when we look toward issues of climate change and variability and how perhaps our growing season might lengthen or how our pest communities might change or expand as we move forward through the years.”
DeDecker says something consumers should know about the food they’re eating is that farmers are working hard to produce healthy food to feed the country.
“They’re also private business people and in order for their farm to be sustainable it not only has to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible, it also has to be economically viable because these are private individuals running a private business and if they’re not making money their farm is going to close and they won’t be producing that food for the consumer,” said Dedecker. “So I think, thinking about where your food dollars go and thinking to invest in the type of food products that you want to see produced, basically voting with your dollars, is really important and sometimes paying a little bit more to put that dollar to a product that you think is going to be good for you, good for the community, good for the envrionment is pretty important.”
In the video above hear Dedecker expand more on what people should know about what it takes to produce food.
Projects at the farm are funded by a general operations allocation from MSU, grant funding for research, donations and some sales of what they produced. DeDecker says they are heavily dependent on grant funding.
More information on the research and programs at the farm can be found on their website.