Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

March 22, 2014

Ag Forum: A time to celebrate

TRAVERSE CITY — One hundred years of “being there” for the citizens of Michigan.

That’s what Michigan State University Extension is celebrating this year. On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act — legislation that extended the land-grant university concept beyond university campuses to reach into communities across the United States. The purpose was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy.”

That legislation created the Cooperative Extension System (CES) as a partnership between the federal, state and county governments, which has continued to this day. My personal familiarity with MSU Extension goes back to the mid-1960s, as a young boy working on the family farm. My grandmother, mother, uncles and cousins would be in the kitchen during lunch breaks, eating, talking and listening to the radio, waiting for the local agricultural extension agent to give the agricultural report: the latest news on crop development, pest activity, market prices and upcoming meetings. I was already into bugs, so I paid very close attention to the pest reports.

In 1970, while still in middle school, I was “discovered” as an up-and-coming entomologist by a teacher with connections to MSU Extension. He made arrangements for me to become a cooperator in the pest survey program, operating a black light insect trap every evening from May to October until 1977. Each week I reported to campus about the numbers of pest species that were caught. The data contributed to the information on local pest activity and numbers distributed to growers through extension newsletters and broadcasts. Now I was hearing some of my own information on the radio during lunch break!

I got to keep any insects I wanted from the nightly take. My collection swelled, my ability to identify insects grew, and my course in life was pretty much set in stone. I majored in entomology at MSU, and I worked part-time as the person who sorted through the black light trap samples that were sent in by extension cooperators that did not make their own pest identifications and counts. In 1979 I started a masters degree program in the department of entomology which included both detailed research and direct communications and cooperation with farmers- real extension work. I kept this connection with extension through my doctorate studies in Pennsylvania and a post-doctoral position in Washington state. My first official position with extension came as a blueberry and cranberry extension specialist for Rutgers University in New Jersey from 1987-1990. In 1990 I was given the privilege of working for MSU Extension in the beautiful Grand Traverse region, where I ended up being the extension agent people heard on the radio. Happy 100thbirthday MSU Extension, I am incredibly thankful to have been connected to you for nearly 50 years.

Erwin ‘Duke’ Elsner is a small fruit educator with MSU Extension.



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