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June 18, 2015

Generosity of local farmer creates national impact

Harold and Edythe Marshall’s gift of their 300-acre farm to Michigan State University has been a major boon to understanding the ecology of new biofuel crops, producing research results with national impact by scientists at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station.

Under a unique partnership between the Marshalls and MSU, the farmland east of Hickory Corners in Barry County is enabling scientists from the KBS Long-term Ecological Research and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center to conduct unique biofuel research with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

Harold passed away in 2005 and Edythe had her 95th birthday recently. She still owns the land and under the agreement it will be donated to MSU after she passes. Harold farmed almost right up to the end. Before he died, he made sure that the land wasn’t developed.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production. MSU sought a special research exemption that allows crops to be grown for research on those lands without jeopardizing payments to Marshall.

“The impact of their donation goes far beyond Hickory Corners and even Michigan as it allows research that informs questions of national scientific impact and science policy,” said Phil Robertson, MSU professor of ecosystem science and director of the KBS LTER Program.

Most research like this is conducted in plots that are a fraction of an acre. The Marshalls allow research to be conducted on whole fields that make the data much more relevant because it incorporates aspects of natural variability, he added.

The research in those fields has produced about a dozen scientific papers, including several in high-profile international journals where they have received a lot of attention, Robertson said.

“We’re blessed by Mrs. Marshall’s generosity, which has enabled not only new knowledge about sustainable crop production, but also has contributed immensely to the education of more than a dozen MSU graduate students and postdoctoral scientists, ensuring that the Marshall’s legacy persists well into the next generation and beyond,” Robertson said.