ROGERS CITY - After several months of interviewing candidates, the Presque Isle County Michigan State University Extension office has a new agriculture and natural resources educator.
Wisconsin native James DeDecker began his new job in September, and on Friday he met Presque Isle County commissioners at their meeting. While there, he told them about his education, specialties and new duties for the MSUE office.
DeDecker received his master's degree from University of Illinois' crop science department in May 2012, he said. He completed his undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he studied anthropology and environmental studies. While studying crop science, he focused on weed management, an he'll handle in his new job.
"My official assignment is field crops, particularly specialty crops, which up here would be potatoes and dried beans," he said, adding he'll also handle issues related to the more standard crops of corn and soybeans.
Standard services offered by MSUE will continue, including soil testing and site visits, DeDecker said. By taking soil samples from a site and sending it for analysis to MSU's soils lab, he can offer a customized recommendation for that particular plot. Site visits would involve visiting with farmers or gardeners to address first-hand any growing issues they may be having.
The main work of the extension is educational programming, DeDecker said, and he and other specialists from MSU will speak on a variety of topics on future dates.
Biofuels, including those derived from cellulose, could be promising for farmers in the county, DeDecker said. He's part of a statewide bio-energy working group, a project started by his predecessors at MSUE that advanced to the stage of planting test plots in the county.
Presque Isle County has an advantage for growing cellulose ethanol feedstock, such as switchgrass, DeDecker said.
"The opportunity up here is a lot of available land can be used for production of energy crops," he said. "The growing season is a challenge, as it is with any crop production. It's a matter of finding what biofuel feedstock crops we can grow with what we have."
Farmers also could grow oil seed crops to make biodiesel, DeDecker said. Next summer, he'll demonstrate a mobile biodiesel plant, capable of producing 80 gallons of the renewable fuel at a time from oil crops like canola. Rather than use seeds from another source, he's looking to recruit local farmers to grow an oil seed crop for the demonstration.
"It's kind of neat, it shows people the potential for on-farm energy production," he said.
In order to assess the needs of the local farming community, DeDecker will revive the farmers breakfast, he said. It'll happen on the first Wednesday of every month at Karsten's in Rogers City, starting in November. Once he gets an idea of what growers' needs are, he'll incorporate an educational component into the breakfasts.
"We'd have a speaker, who would do maybe 15 minutes on a particular topic that farmers have expressed needs (for)," he said.
Starting next week, DeDecker also will begin submitting two articles per month for MSUE news, he said. While intended for a wider audience, they'll relate to local issues.
Walk-ins are welcome at the MSUE office, 106 E. Huron Ave., Suite C, DeDecker said. It's open 8 a.m. to 4:30 on weekdays. He can be reached by calling 734-2168 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.