Fields become outdoor classrooms for new technologies

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Participants tour demonstration plots on hay wagons at the Center for Excellence Day. Photo submitted.

For one full day each August, two Lenawee County farms become outdoor classrooms known as The Center For Excellence (CFE), and farmers and others with agricultural interests from all around are invited. This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 12, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. Robert Utterback, who serves as the Outlook Economist for the leading agriculture magazine in the U.S., Farm Journal, will be the featured speaker during the lunch hour.

While several organizations sponsor CFE, the Lenawee County Soil Conservation District, located on Sutton Road in Raisin Township, has served as event coordinator for many years, organizing “classroom” demonstrations and teaching sessions at the Bakerlads Farm in Clayton (Cadmus Road) in the morning, and Raymond and Stutzman Farms in Morenci (Seneca Hwy.).

“This field day has become one of the largest field days held in Michigan or Ohio, next to MSU’s Ag Expo and the Midwest Farm Show in Van Wert, Ohio,” said Tom Van Wagner, former District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who currently serves as a consultant technician with the Lenawee Conservation District. “We’ve drawn visitors from all over, including from Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.” Van Wagner remembers how the field day came about following discussions around 1997 between his friend, the late Dr. Gordy Wuethrich and himself and the farmers who offered to be host sites to demonstrate applied research.

Demonstration plots were then planted so farmers could see the results utilizing various strategies and conservation tillage practices. A big component also included inviting a well-known speaker, generally an economist, but others such as a nationally recognized meteorologist from Iowa State University, have also been invited. Audiences for these events have included up to 450-500 people.
“It was often an economist because, like my friend Gordy would say, what you’re doing has got to be sustainable,” Van Wagner said. “We can show the science behind the practices, but you also have to balance the economics.”

The featured speaker, Robert Utterback, grew up on a small farm in Central Indiana and holds agricultural degrees from Purdue University and Oregon State University. He’s worked with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and as a chief market analyst. He also owns his own brokerage firm. Utterback also develops market strategies and market plans to assist farm operations, end users, and elevators throughout the U.S. with regard to buying and selling ag and ag-related commodities.

“We thought it would be good to hear Bob Utterback’s comments on these great crops we’re having this year,” said Van Wagner. “We’re also putting a push on soil quality and soil health with our programs this year.”

Morning sessions at Bakerlads Farms will include programs on nitrogen management in corn, drainage water management, and sessions by several experts. Lunch will be served at Raymond and Stutzman Farms with afternoon sessions including topics such as drought resistant corn, high production wheat systems — the Michigan Wheat Program’s first event at the field day, cover crops and high production soybean systems. New technology is also available for viewing during the afternoon.

“When we started this, we agreed that we would always need to keep growing and always asking ourselves, ‘what can we do to make that happen?’” said Van Wagner. “We feel that we’ve been on the leading edge, especially with the technology, and others who come here have told us so.” He added that having the Lenawee Soil Conservation District take a lead role in the CFE has promoted what local districts were created for.

“What local conservation districts are supposed to be doing is to promote local district platforms at the local level and the Center for Excellence does that,” he said.

Kathlene Kurowicki, Executive Director at the Lenawee Soil Conservation District, agrees that the CFE has been a worthwhile project that has evolved nicely through the years, and is pleased to still be a part of it.

“I think the main reason we still do it is the education component that we provide to the farmers throughout Lenawee County, because they are always looking to improve their knowledge and to make their farm practices sound,” she said. “I think we provide that through the speakers we bring in and the activities that we do.”

A CFE Results Meeting is also held each January to report data collected when the plots are harvested.

To RSVP for this year’s free CFE Field Day, call the Lenawee Conservation District office at 263.7400 Ext. 3, or visit the office at 1100 Sutton Road.




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