Mar 12, 2012
MSU looks at funding for ag research stations

Michigan State University will close its Muck Soils Research Farm in Laingsburg and is weighing the fate of at least one more of its 15 agricultural research stations statewide.

Steve Pueppke, director of MSU AgBioResearch, said the university is taking a hard look at expenses. Muck Soils is actually being closed within the year – not just due to monetary concerns, but also because a water issue there has made the station less than ideal for research, Pueppke said.

Meanwhile, the Clarksville Horticultural Experiment Station between Lansing and Grand Rapids is one of the stations with a cloudy future. With two ongoing trials studying sweet cherries and tart cherry breeding, any changes at Clarksville would have to be planned carefully. At the same time, a moratorium on planting there has been imposed.

“Ongoing experiments at Clarksville have delayed making any changes at this time,” Pueppke said.

Addressing a Michigan Pomesters meeting last week, MSU Extension Educator Phil Schwallier told attendees that the delay gives growers an opportunity.

“You need to know what you need and what you want from research,” Schwallier said. “This is your research station and this is your future. You now have the time to think about this and plan.”

Schwallier said Clarksville lacks the support of similar-size operations like the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station near Traverse City, where local growers purchased the land and lease it to the university for $1 per year; or the Trevor Nichols Research Complex near Fennville, which is supported through grants and funding to conduct pest and disease trials. U

Unlike other Michigan research stations, Clarksville has no full-time staff. In addition to sweet and tart cherry trials, Clarksville hosts apple variety, thinning, storage and rootstock trials, peach thinning and various IPM trials and a host of experiments in other areas of horticulture. The station sits on 440 acres, but only a fraction are used for trials.

The University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program is planning to partner with MSU on breeding trials. Such a union would benefit both schools, since they would co-own any new varieties created, Schwallier said. The shared program could start as early as 2013, but would need ground in Michigan to plant the new trees.

“Where would we plant these trees?” Schwallier said. “We need grower input on how to proceed with this program.”

One option is to close and sell the Clarksville station, using proceeds to purchase property and open a new station farther west in the prime fruit-growing area known as the Ridge.
Another option, Schwallier said, is to do nothing and let the research station close.

“The growers need to decide if they want to lose that asset,” he said.

Pueppke said he’d rather not make cuts at all.

“We don’t want to have to make any of these changes,” he said. “We want to strengthen what we currently have and expand the options we can offer our researchers and growers. Making any cuts are tough, and we are open to any discussions growers want to have with us.”

–By Derrek Sigler

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