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Agriculture educator closes the books

Jan. 3, 2013 | 0 comments

"I’m a farm boy," Bryce Larson says. That statement says a lot about why he thrived in a career that ran for more than 36 years in the field of agriculture education for adults.

From his farm roots in Jackson County in western Wisconsin, Larson moved across the state to the western shores of Lake Michigan, where he was an agriculture instructor at Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) for 31 years, retiring from that position on July 1 of 2006.

For the most part, his students at LTC were farmers in Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and a few surrounding counties.

Larson’s first retirement proved to be a short one because by 2007 Calumet County was looking for someone to take a "back fill" position to carry out duties assigned to its agriculture agent when agent Matt Glewen was given two out of county assignments by the University of Wisconsin Extension Service.

One of those was covering about five years as a mentor for new agents around the state and another as an Extension Service interim district director.

On August 1, 2007, Larson joined the Calumet County Extension Service office with a title of "agriculture educator" - a position with a designation of up to 80 percent of full-time during Glewen’s 18-month tenure as interim district director.

During that period, Glewen relinquished most of his former duties except for meat animal production and activities related to the Calumet County Fair.

During his more than five years, Larson concentrated on providing information and overseeing on-farm projects pertaining to crop production, soil traits, plant nutrition, and the county’s Forage Council along with being a strong advocate of the Midwest Forage Council and the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance.

He also joined the Extension Service’s regional or state-wide Team Forage, Team Grains, and Nutrient Management working groups of county agents with special skills on those topics.

On-Farm Research Projects

Larson pointed out that one major difference between the technical college system and the Extension Service is the ability to conduct on-farm trials, with backup specialist support and funding from the Extension Service.

During each of the five full summers of his tenure in Calumet County, he used that opportunity to carry out one or more on-farm projects in conjunction with state-level Extension specialists.

One of those, as part of a state-wide project, was a three-year monitoring of alfalfa yields and persistence on a farm in the town of Chilton.

Another, conducted over five years at the eastern-most location in the state and perhaps on the heaviest soil, was part of Extension Service soil scientist Carrie Laboski’s project to determine the relation of nitrogen and grower returns from corn crops.

In a piggyback venture on the corn nitrogen plots, Larson obtained an Extension Service district grant to analyze the correlation of nitrogen with the protein, energy, and starch content of corn stalks for how this could affect corn silage quality and feeding value.

He said the results were in line with Extension Service corn agronomist Joe Lauer’s theory that nitrogen shortages in corn fields reduce the yield but do not affect components in the silage made from that corn.

In a one-year project with Extension Service small grains specialist Shawn Conley, Larson oversaw a winter wheat trial in which the purpose was to identify whether an overapplication of nitrogen in the autumn would lead to winterkill.

Larson also participated in a two-year project to test alfalfa tissue for a shortage of sulfur and other nutrients and, as part of an 11-state project involving Extension Service entomologist Eileen Cullen, scouted soybean fields in the county for soybean aphids during one summer.

Several of those research projects yielded stipends for the cooperating farmers and the Extension Service agent. For his part, Larson donated all of those stipend monies to the county’s Forage Council.

One of Larson’s concerns was the loss of topsoil to erosion.

He tried to call attention to this by working with Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Joe Smedberg to document the losses during heavy rains in early May of 2012 and by pointing out how tillage and seedbed preparation practices contributed to significant erosion.

Based on that experience, Larson observed that it certainly makes sense to tie various government payment programs to the amount of crop residue cover on fields - 10 versus 30 percent for instance.

He wants farmers to be aware that a field that is leveled or smoothed in the wake of planting can easily be a candidate for severe erosion for several weeks afterward.

Changes in County Programs

During his five-plus years, Larson believes that switching the county Forage Council’s annual meeting in February to a daytime rather than an evening event will be a good move.

Moving the council’s summer field day from the daytime to a twilight session has also worked out well, he added.

For the scissors cuttings to analyze the maturity and quality of the first crop of alfalfa, which had been a cooperative venture between the Extension Service and the Forage Council, Larson has laid the groundwork.

They hope to have private agronomy consultant Doug Kapral and his employee Kristin Birschbach collect the cuttings, receive the analyses, provide them to Kapral’s clients, and then also post them on the Extension Service’s website.

Early in his tenure, Larson set up grain marketing meetings in cooperation with the local AgriPartners Cooperative but soon learned there were not many growers in the county who were interested in formal grain marketing contracts.

He continued to work with AgriPartners, having used its facilities for one of the corn silage drydown days in 2012.

A change is also afoot to quicken the process for the corn stalk drydown, Larson indicated.

This would involve the use of an infra-red unit, with Koster dryers still available for a confirmatory backup. He is counting on having an area farm equipment dealer provide the infra-red unit.

It’s happening on far more acres now in the county but Larson wishes he would have made an earlier push to encourage farmers to grow cereal rye as a good feed for dairy heifers and to augment their cropping plans with the late summer or early autumn planting of cover crops such as radish, triticale, and forage oats.

He explained that such a practice can yield a triplicate of benefits - protecting the soil from erosion, an opportunity to apply liquid manure, and extra forage for livestock.

Retirement Plans

Larson decided to retire because he recently turned 65 and in part because of two incidents, which indicated a potential health problem.

In retirement, he plans to continue with his longtime enjoyment of trapping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and snowshoeing and to find time to learn to play the guitar so he can accompany himself singing folk songs.

Among other activities, Larson has been a director of the Wisconsin trappers association and commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

He has stepped aside from his affiliation of about 20 years as a Manitowoc County delegate to the regional Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development Council.

As his "farm boy" heritage and career choice would suggest, Larson is also an avid gardener at his School Hill home in Manitowoc County.

For the past two years, in conjunction with Faith Lutheran Church in Valders, he has also overseen a community garden venture at the Christian Center in St. Nazianz (the former Salvatorian Seminary grounds).

The community garden, set up to provide free food for the needy in the area, produced about 120 dozen ears of sweet corn for that purpose in 2012, Larson indicated.

He also noted, however, that he was able to find only four peppers among dozens of plants, suggesting that one or more pepper pilferers had visited the site regularly.

For the future of that community garden, Larson is encouraged that a few other people are interested in using some of the space.

He said this nurtures the possibility of meshing with the goal of the owners of the Christian Center to have the garden be a ministry venture serving the community.

Larson’s retirement day of January 3 coincides with that of Glewen, who will move on to become the general manager of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days.

To mark the retirements, a reception was held in the Extension Service area of the Calumet County courthouse on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 3.

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