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Educators to Address Realities of Climate Change
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“Climate change is a reality, and it affects many human activities, including agriculture,” she explains. “The climate is changing, and these changes are likely to happen even more rapidly in the future. Though we may not know exactly how these changes will affect Michigan field crops, the better prepared we are, the more we can use them to our benefit."

Source: Michigan State University, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Contact: Sara Long at 517-432-1555, ext. 223

Preparing Extension Educators to Help State’s Field Crop Industry Address Realities of Climate Change

"How can we help Michigan field crop farmers adapt to and help mitigate a changing climate?"

Finding an answer to this question was what brought Michigan State University (MSU) colleagues Claire Layman, Extension public policy specialist, and Julie Doll, education and outreach specialist at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station for the Long-term Ecological Research Program (KBS LTER), together on a research project intent on finding ways to engage the producer, scientist and decision maker communities in discussions about the relationship between climate change and agriculture. The KBS LTER program is funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by MSU and MSU AgBioResearch.

It all started when Doll and Layman met at an MSU Extension training event and started talking about climate change and their respective work on the issue.

"The project I work with – the Long-term Ecological Research Program at KBS – researches climate change and how it relates to field crop agriculture, including soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions under a variety of farm management systems," Doll explained. "Claire’s work involves public policy and using participatory dialogue to find solutions to difficult problems facing communities. As we talked, we realized we had a natural partnership: merging the science and policy issues of climate change with deliberative discussions to help Michigan’s agriculture industry deal with a changing climate."

Phil Robertson, MSU professor of crop and soil science, and Cheryl Peters, evaluation specialist for MSU Extension, are also partners on the research project, which received funding from Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), Michigan’s plant agriculture initiative at MSU, and an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) education grant.

Because field crop production plays both ends of the greenhouse gas equation – emitting and consuming them – it’s important that public policy be formed on the basis of sound science and producers implement effective agricultural management practices to adapt to and help reduce the effects of climate change.

Doll says findings from this project will be important on both a global level and for farmers here in Michigan.

"Climate change is a reality, and it affects many human activities, including agriculture," she explains. "The climate is changing, and these changes are likely to happen even more rapidly in the future. Though we may not know exactly how these changes will affect Michigan field crops, the better prepared we are, the more we can use them to our benefit.

"Climate change is inevitable, so it’s important that the state’s agriculture industry be positioned to adapt," Doll says. "Preparing ourselves to deal with climate change – being equipped with science-based information and having adaptive measures in place at the ready – is key."

Learning the existing perspectives about climate change and their relevance to field crop production and identifying the outreach and educational material needs were the first orders of business. The project team conducted focus groups over the past year with Michigan farmers, representatives from the agriculture industry, MSU researchers, legislative aides and environmentalists.

Doll says she found the focus group discussions "fascinating."

"It struck me how engaged the participants were and how respectful the dialogue was," she says. "Even though we were discussing what is often portrayed as a contentious issue, participants wanted to talk, share and learn. It gave me hope as we move forward with the climate change issue."

Doll and Layman shared the findings from the focus groups at a Climate Change and Field Crop Agriculture Training and Deliberative Discussion held at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station on March 14 and 15. At this event, MSU researchers presented information about the science behind climate change, insight into the process of developing legislative policy and examples of decision-making tools. Invited speaker Professor Clyde Fraisse, from the University of Florida, demonstrated AgroClimate’s (http://agroclimate.org/tools/) online tools that help farmers in the southeast region of the country make crop decisions in the face of climate variability.

"This set the stage for a deliberative discussion, a way to respectfully decide together about how to approach a problem that is as overwhelming, rapidly evolving and value-laden as climate change," Doll says.

The project’s primary target audience is MSU Extension educators and agricultural professionals, Doll explains. "Through trainings, scientific fact sheets, participatory dialogue, and compiled summaries of our conversations with farmers, we hope that (Extension) educators and others can incorporate this information in their programming to reach producers across the state."

As part of their outreach efforts, the project team members are developing a series of six fact sheets summarizing scientific climate change concepts that relate to field crop agriculture. Topics range from greenhouse gas basics to Michigan’s changing climate to soil management under a changing climate. The fact sheets are available free of charge from the MSU Extension Bookstore (www.bookstore.msue.msu.edu).

"The way forward is to be prepared," Doll states. "It’s important that all the players – the scientific community, Extension educators, farmers, policy makers and other decision makers – stay informed and remain engaged in respectful dialogue about climate change and agriculture."

This summer the project team will be summarizing and publishing the results of their work, in addition to writing grants to fund and develop Extension programming related to agriculture and climate change.