Cows and deer that share salt might also share disease


Capital News Service

LANSING — A popular source of nutrition for cattle is a potential site for transferring disease, according to a recent study.

Salt blocks are potential transmitters of tuberculosis from cow to deer and vice versa, said John Kaneene, the lead researcher of a study by Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.

The blocks are commonly placed in pastures for cattle to lick. At night, deer can enter the field and lick the same salt.

The study found that if a deer or cow is infected, it can leave that disease on the salt block for the next animal to eat.

“It’s a big finding,” said Kaneene, who is an epidemiology professor at MSU. “We kept on saying, ‘Despite all these efforts, why are we having repeated infections on these cattle farms?’ That’s how we came to salt blocks.” Continue reading

Computer model bolsters sustainability, production for dairy farms


Capital News Service

LANSING — Researchers at Michigan State University are creating a computer model to help make pasture dairy farming more sustainable.

The project draws upon several research papers released in the past three months that discuss the environmental impact of livestock farms and how climate change affects them.

They also address the challenges of moving cows from barns to pastures.

Mecosta, Sanilac and Hillsdale counties have more than 100 dairy farms each, according to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Allegan and Huron counties have between 76 and 100, while Gladwin, Missaukee, Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, Clinton and Isabella counties have between 51 and 75 each.

Pasture-based livestock graze year round or seasonally. That’s different than in confined systems where the cows are housed and fed indoors for the majority of the year, said Melissa Rojas-Downing, an MSU doctoral student and a co-author of the research papers. Continue reading

Productivity boost offsets acreage, price declines of corn


Capital News Service

LANSING — Soon Michigan farmers will start planting millions of acres of corn, cultivating what has become a billion-dollar business in the state.

Farming is one of the top three industries in Michigan, and corn one of the top crops.

“Agriculture in Michigan has been a growing industry, contributing a great deal to the state’s economy,” said Kate Thiel, a field crop specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau and its 46,500 member farmers.

One of the largest crops in Michigan is corn, Thiel said. Michigan farmers grew about 2.4 million acres of corn for grain in 2016, generating $1.1 billion last year – despite a price drop.

“While corn growers have seen a decrease in value of their product in recent years due to decreased commodity prices, they still play a large role in Michigan’s economy,” she said. Continue reading

Fluctuating weather complicates harvesting for farmers


Capital News Service

LANSING — As the weather continues to fluctuate around the state, farmers are being forced to adapt to changing conditions.

Amanda Shreve, the program director for the Michigan Farmers Market Association, said farmers can adapt to virtually any weather condition. She also said that as a result of warmer weather for longer periods throughout the year, farmers markets open earlier in the year and close later than they used to.

“We used to have a general farmers market season of July – September, but now we see a lot of markets starting in May and going all the way through October or November,” Shreve said.

Some crops come in early as a result of the warmer temperatures, too. Maple syrup is set to come in about a month early, said Savannah Halleaux, a public affairs officer for Michigan’s Federal Service Agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Continue reading

Warmer weather means longer growing season for wine grapes


Capital News Service

Michigan grapes. Image: Steven Schultze.

Michigan grapes. Image: Steven Schultze.

LANSING — Good news for Michigan vineyards: the time grapes have to ripen has dramatically increased over the past few decades.

“It’s nearly grown an entire month in just four decades,” said Steven Schultze, an assistant professor of geography at the University of South Alabama who discovered the shift as a doctoral student at Michigan State University.

“One of our biggest findings, just since 1971, the growing season in Southwest Michigan has increased by 28.8 days,” Schultze said. Continue reading

Insects could add protein to our diets


Capital News Service

Wayne State University anthropologist Julie Lesnick

Wayne State University anthropologist Julie Lesnick

LANSING — Michiganders raised on meat and potatoes may soon notice a new high-protein food on their plates.

That is if entomophagy experts can convince people to eat bugs.

Michigan is among the areas where insect agriculture is expanding to meet the demands of a looming global food scarcity crisis, experts say. Wayne State University hosted the first North American conference on eating insects last May in Detroit. And a Detroit company is working with state regulators to launch the state’s first urban insect farm.  

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates the world’s population will grow to 9 billion by 2050. And it will take a big increase in food production to feed them all. Continue reading

CSI Great Lakes: Fish forensics


Capital News Service

Pacific salmon often spawn in the streams in which they were hatched or stocked. Image: Brandon Gerig

Pacific salmon often spawn in the streams in which they were hatched or stocked. Image: Brandon Gerig

LANSING — Some trout in Great Lakes tributaries are just as contaminated with a chemical linked to respiratory, liver and skin ailments as the Pacific salmon that they eat, according to a new study.

The findings should help those making decisions on eating fish, dam removal and stocking, according to the researchers.

Pacific salmon, such as Chinook and coho, are large sports fish that live most of their lives in the Great Lakes and then spawn and die in rivers and streams. Continue reading

Wild rice, once common, may return to Michigan


Capital News Service

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a traditional food for many Native Americans. Image: Barb Barton

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a traditional food for many Native Americans. Image: Barb Barton

LANSING — After decades of leaving wild rice management to Native American tribes, state officials are gearing up to track how some government agencies handle wild rice issues.

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a seed that is a traditional food for many Native Americans. The plant grows in shallow water, and wild rice stands are peppered in various, often hush-hush, locations throughout the state.

A misconception exists that wild rice was never important in Michigan, said Barb Barton, an endangered species consultant from Lansing who is writing a book about wild rice in Michigan. Continue reading

Pennycress could be next cash crop


Capital News Service

Commercial pennycress field in April. Image: Jerry Steiner, Arvegenix

Commercial pennycress field in April. Image: Jerry Steiner, Arvegenix

LANSING — A new crop could add a harvesting season for farmers in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest, a spring harvest rather than the traditional fall.

Pennycress is planted in August or September, toward the end of the corn season. It continues until May. Because of this unique characteristic, this member of the mustard family could benefit both the environment and farming, according to agricultural researchers.

The plant is valued for the oil produced from the seeds which can be used as a raw material for biodiesel. And pennycress helps meet federal and state goals to reduce the production of carbon that contributes to climate change.

The plant may see its rise in Michigan soon.

Metro Ag Services, located in Detroit, plans to build a 30 million gallon oil processing facility in Flint, said Lance Stokes, a research specialist at Metro Ag Services. It will serve nearby farms and cut the distance that farmers must send harvested pennycress. Continue reading

Small coastal communities spiff up their resumes


Capital News Service

LANSING — Small coastal communities are laying the groundwork to bring cash to their waterfronts.

Community members, researchers, designers, engineers and others are helping six small harbor communities plan for the future. And the effort, coordinated by Michigan Sea Grant, could have a statewide impact by modeling development strategies for other coastal communities, creating safe harbors for recreational boaters and spurring tourism.

Four communities last year participated in a program that helps to develop five-year  plans for their waterfronts: Ontonagon, Pentwater, Au Gres and New Baltimore. Two more – St. Ignace and Rogers City – will go through the process in October.

More than 80 communities with small public harbors will benefit from the program because the planning materials it develops will be available free through Sea Grant. Continue reading