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MSU, state collaborate to help Michigan farmers adapt to climate change

Jan and Bruce Upston stand smiling front of an apple tree with a blue sky in the background
Mercedes Mejia
Jan and Bruce Upston have been running the Wasem Fruit Farm since 1986 when they took over the business from Jan's parents.

A newly-established research collaboration between Michigan State University, the state of Michigan, and plant agriculture groups aims to help the state’s farmers adjust to climate change.

The Agricultural Climate Resiliency Program has now chosen four projects to fund for its inaugural round, with each getting $1.25 million over three years. They include the following efforts:

  • Increasing resiliency of tree fruit production to climate change through a holistic approach to water, nutrient and soil management. Researchers will work to develop a climate-smart technology that can optimize irrigation and fertilizer management to make timely decisions, as well as maximize water and fertilizer use efficiency.
  • Creating a decision-support system that promotes sustainable farming by providing insights into climate-smart approaches. The goal of the project is to develop a statewide tool that integrates socioeconomic analysis, groundwater flow, nutrient and pollutant fate and transport modeling, and field observations. 
  • Providing Michigan field crop farmers the information they need to build climate-resilient cropping systems. Using an innovative and multidisciplinary approach that engages field crop farmers as partners, the research team will assess factors influencing climate adaptation and mitigation of major commodity crops in Michigan. 
  • Addressing specific pest management concerns regarding the effects of erratic weather on early season management, bloom prediction and late-season management in apple, blueberry, cherry and grape production systems. The goals of the project are to develop resilient disease management strategies, adaptive insect pest control measures, integrated bloom prediction models and effective outreach strategies for stakeholder engagement.

The program “represents an opportunity to position the university at the forefront of climate and water research, while delivering practical strategies to growers,” according to MSU program materials.
“The program is fundamentally about ensuring that Michigan is part of the solution to climate change mitigation and adaptation, in addition to issues around water quality,” George Smith, director of MSU AgBioResearch, said in a statement. “Research will be multidisciplinary and geared toward sustainable approaches such as regenerative agriculture because we know that bolstering the resiliency of our agricultural systems in the face of new challenges is essential to Michigan and beyond.”

Agriculture industry groups are also excited about the collaboration. Mark Seamon, head of the Michigan Soybean Committee, said these projects are different from the “crop-specific research we've done in the past. These are maybe a little bit more broad or wider-ranging.”

Seamon added that agricultural producers are interested in knowing more about the “kind of changes that we're seeing and how those things are, of course, related to temperature and moisture extremes.” He said that includes water management, emerging plant diseases, and new or more virulent pests affecting crops.

“We're definitely interested in trying to figure out, how does the soybean industry adapt to the new realities,” Seamon said.

The program is being jointly funded by MSU and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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