Michael Fields Agriculture Institute

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The Michael Fields Agriculture Institute (MFAI) is a non-profit organization that is committed to promoting sustainable agriculture through the work of education, research, policy, and market development since 1984. The vision of the institute is to cultivate an environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture that will promote healthy lands for the farmers that distribute to the consumers.[1] The work of the Institute today, is meant to encourage the future efforts of sustainable agriculture through diverse and innovative ways. Located in East Troy, Wisconsin, MFAI program efforts affect the state and beyond. It is the goal of the Institute to promote sustainable agriculture to all types of farmers whether they consider themselves conventional, organic, or biodynamic.[2]

Michael Fields Agriculture Institute located in East Troy, Wisconsin. Source: MFAI

History and organization

See also: History of Michael Fields Agriculture Institute

Founders

Christopher Mann, founder of the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute. Source: MFAI

The Michael Fields Agriculture Institute was founded by Christopher and Martina Mann, and Ruth Zinniker. Christopher and Martina occupied a large farm house on the Institutes property. Christopher Mann was tasked with managing the land and livestock, while Martina oversaw her own bakery. Ruth Zinniker neighbored Christopher and Martina, in one of the oldest known biodynamic farms in America.[3] The three founders played important and active roles as Board Members for many years of the Institute. They knew that ultimately the use of modern pesticides and inorganic fertilizers would sabotage local aquifers while crippling future agricultural capabilities.[4] It was their goal to utilize the Institute in a means of educating farmers to utilize the land in ways that future generations could prosper. Christopher Mann is one of the only remaining founders of MFAI alive today.

Organization

The Michael Fields Agriculture Institute organization started with the founders passion for healthy, and organic soil. Starting with a common goal; Christopher, Martina, and Ruth considered that the fundamental growth of healthy foods must start with the soil at its purest and natural form. With their goals in mind, their once family farms became the education and research Institute known today. By the use of organic and biodynamic agriculture, the MFAI uses modern research to demonstrate the most beneficial causes in sustainable farming for human wellbeing. The original founders operated the Institute for over 33 years, and not only impacted the East Troy community, but their influence grew to much of Southeast Wisconsin as well.[5]

Board of Directors (2017)

  • Laura Paine - President - Grazing and Organic Agriculture Specialist
  • Ed Erdmann - Vice President - UW-Whitewater, Department of Languages & Literatures
  • Jamshed Patel - Secretary/Treasurer - Foley & Lardner
  • Robert "Bob" Bower - Hawthorne Valley Farm
  • Mark Finser - RSF Social Finance
  • Anders Gurda - UW-Madison, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
  • Leslie J. Harris - UW-Milwaukee, Communication Department
  • Lali Watt - CPA
  • Brian Wickert - Biodynamic Practitioner

Board of Directors Officers (Ex-Officio Members) (2017)

  • Christopher Mann
  • Bill Liebhardt
  • Wayne Lueders
  • Beth Bovis

Michael Fields Research Program

Contrary to conventional agricultural practices, the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute is dedicated to understanding the effects of modern farming operations. While most farming tactics are used for profit, MFAI is an independent, non-profit organization that uses programs to further evaluate sustainable and conventional methods. Since the 1980's, the research conducted by the organization has been beneficial to farmers, consumers, and the environment.[6] The organizations primary focus is to always consider what is best for people and the land while expanding these ideas to other communities for the stability of future generations.

Cover Crops Research

The use of cover crops is an important aspect of conservation agriculture. Keeping bare soil of a field or pasture covered between harvests improves the stability of soil properties, and promotes increased biodiversity.[7] Crops are typically grown for profit or feed for cattle, but cover crops are mainly used in areas that are subjected to harsh winters or frosts. Performing an important role in sustainability, MFAI has used their cover crop research to develop Best Management Practices (BMPs) in attempt to improve farming prosperity.[8]

Current MFAI cover crop projects include:

  • Cover crop strategies for organic transition, and reinvigoration
  • Cover crop options for prevented plant situations
  • Organic quack grass control
  • Estimation of red clover nitrogen credits, and rotational benefits to corn
  • Aerial seeding of cover crops in corn, and soybean

These projects are conducted through a partnership with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the UW-Madison Department of Soil Science and the Nutrient, and Pest Management Program of UW-Extension.[9]

Vast acreage of fields with exposed soils for extended periods of time is an unnatural concern that has posed threats to farm land. The implementation of cover crops has been a viable solution to managing the loss of nutrients, and lessening the need of inorganic fertilizers. It is the intention of the Michael Fields Research Program to meet the needs that modern agriculture demand, while maintaining the highest level of soil quality.

Organic Corn Breeding Program

Modern agriculture requires modern crops, and the Michael Fields Research Program has been dedicated to breeding organic corn capable of withstanding stringent conditions. The use of pesticides and other inorganic materials has changed the way weeds, pests, and diseases now resist or adapt. Organic growing efforts prove to be difficult when dealing with competition that has adopted synthetic attributes.

Breeding Program Goals

The MFAI Breeding Program has two goals:

  • Selection for grain quality
  • To develop true breeding lines (with gametophytic incompatibly to prevent GMO contaminations)[10]

Corn kernels consist highly of starch. Although a good energy source, starch is a source of limited nutritional value. To improve nutritional utility, the Breeding Program is attempting to influence amino acid levels, specifically methionine, to improve overall protein quality and make organic corn a more sustainable nutrition source.[11]

Gametophytic incompatibility is the prevention of crops from cross pollinating of genes for transgenic traits from entering the breeding line.[12] This goal has been an issue for organic breeders, and the Breeding Program, as cross contamination from drifting pollen can sometimes happen from more than a quarter of a mile away. Cross contamination can cause rejection of grains at terminals.

MFAI's work on organic crop breeding is important to the agricultural community, as it offers research and education for a natural and un-intrusive way that gardeners or farmers can utilize the land without harming it.

Michael Fields Education Program

Kids learning at Michael Fields Agriculture Institute. Source: MFAI

The Michael Fields Agriculture Institute has been a leader in food education and sustainable agriculture initiatives for farmers since 1984.[13] MFAI understands the importance of sustainable agriculture education, especially in a state that relies heavily on farming. Training and education programs for organic or biodynamic farming efforts have been utilized as a means of extending information across communities. MFAI offers farm and food education programs that allow for extensive teachings that engage students in interactive workshops and training. Whole Farm Workshops are offered at the East Troy location, where farmers with different skill levels can develop new sustainability skills. Each program is intended to train the next generation of sustainable farmers.

Michael Fields Public Policy Program

The Michael Fields Agriculture Institution understands sustainable agriculture through the research their organization has conducted. For this reason, they also know the importance of public policy in agriculture. Efforts are made through the expertise of those engaged in the policy program to modify government programs in a way that advocates for more sustainable agriculture, a healthier environment, and an informed community.[14]

Policy Work

The MFAI Policy Program intentions are to serve the agriculture community for those who wish to farm sustainably. While many policies are not in favor of sustainable farmers, government has been forced to evolve over time with pressing issues that conventional agriculture has caused. Many concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are the root cause for water contamination and some air pollutions.[15] These ill effects are often punished, but where CAFOs are capable of working through punishments, small agricultural establishments typically hurt the worst. The MFAI policy program is an attempt to undo injustice punishments, and empower citizens to use their democratic power to help us change policies that will support the cause. While efforts of the MFAI have made large impacts, overall government policies will be the only hope to change the way in which modern farming will ultimately destroy the land farmers rely on.

References

  1. "MFAI", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/mfai/
  2. "The Mission", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/the-mission/
  3. "History of Michael Fields Agriculture Institute", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/history-of-michael-fields/
  4. "History of Michael Fields Agriculture Institute", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/history-of-michael-fields/
  5. "History of Michael Fields Agriculture Institute", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/history-of-michael-fields/
  6. "Michael Fields Research Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/michael-fields-research-program/
  7. "The importance of cover crops in conservation agriculture", Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, accessed December 2017, http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/2a.html
  8. "Cover Crops Research", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/cover-crops-research/
  9. "Cover Crops Research", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/cover-crops-research/
  10. "Organic Corn Breeding Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/organic-corn-breeding-program/
  11. "Organic Corn Breeding Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/organic-corn-breeding-program/
  12. "Organic Corn Breeding Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/organic-corn-breeding-program/
  13. "Michael Fields Education Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/michael-fields-education-program/
  14. "Michael Fields Policy Program", Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, accessed December 2017, http://michaelfields.org/michael-fields-public-policy-program/
  15. "The Hidden Costs of CAFOs", Organic Consumers, accessed December 2017, https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/hidden_costs_of_cafos.pdf

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