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From the fields to the community

SMSU Agronomy Field Day highlights local ag research and service projects

Photo by Deb Gau Andrew Lueck of Next Gen Ag talks about research on controlling weeds during Southwest Minnesota State University’s Agronomy Field Day on Wednesday. The field day showcased research projects and learning opportunities at the field trials farm site and the Jon Knochenmus Center for Innovation.

MARSHALL — There’s a lot going on at a farm site just north of Marshall, from hands-on learning to crop research, and even a project that will help feed area families.

On Wednesday, visitors to Southwest Minnesota State University’s field trials farm site got to hear a rundown of all the research going on in the test plots, as well as at the neighboring Jon Knochenmus Center for Innovation.

SMSU students said the field trials farm has been important for them to conduct research and get hands-on agricultural experience.

“We’re learning from each other every day,” SMSU intern Justin Otto said.

“I’ve learned how to set up plots, and how to manage them,” said fellow intern Jacqueline Wisinski.

More than 90 people attended SMSU’s third annual Agronomy Field Day at the farm site.

“It’s a really great turnout, even with the rain,” said Dr. Adam Alford, director of field research at SMSU.

Wednesday’s rain made conditions a little too muddy to tour the test plots, but presenters talked about some of the different research and service projects being conducted there. Andrew Lueck, of Next Gen Ag, shared some of the results of his herbicide research on controlling weeds like waterhemp.

Soil microbiologist Rachel Raths spoke about how Ralco is researching microbes to help grow healthier crops and increase yields. While all plants need sunlight, water and nutrients to grow, the impact of those three things is greater if there are healthy microbes in the soil, Raths said.

Another project led by SMSU students plans to use the crops grown at the test site to help feed area families, said SMSU professors Doug Simon and George Taylor. Enactus, a student entrepreneurship organization, is working on a project to help address the nutrition gap at area K-12 schools.

“We are calling the project Mindful Meals,” Simon said. Students involved with Enactus were inspired by the Humanity Alliance, a Minnesota nonprofit that takes produce and other perishable foods about to be thrown out by food shelves, uses them to cook meals, and delivers the meals to families in need.

“The meal itself is nutritious, it’s good for young families,” Simon said.

But in addition, Taylor said, Enactus wants to fill in nutritional gaps where families might not have access to food shelves or programs like Meals on Wheels. The idea is to prepare and distribute nutritious meals that could help get families through the weekend when food shelves might not be open, he said.

Taylor said the project will not only help meet community needs, but it will help SMSU students develop critical thinking and teamwork skills, and form connections in the community.

“The students are out in front. They are driving this,” Taylor said.

“It will take probably a couple years to get it up and running at full bore,” Simon said of the Mindful Meals project. Over the past year, students started by learning about the Humanity Alliance’s work. “Now we’re looking at bringing in stakeholders.”

And in the meantime, produce from test plots at the field trials site could be used to help the Humanity Alliance meal program. Alford said there are hundreds of zucchini plants growing at the test plots in Marshall, that could be a source of healthy meal ingredients.

“They were growing it, and we needed it,” Simon said.

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