Dean Baas: NCR-SARE Hero

Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term “NCR-SARE Hero” recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that individuals have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region. 

Dean Baas’ academic training started at Michigan State University (MSU), where he received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering. Baas worked for 20 years with the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, in technical/management positions, before returning to MSU to undertake a doctorate in environmental geosciences and biosystems engineering in 2001.

Upon completing his doctorate in 2009, Baas began his career as an extension educator in sustainable agriculture for MSU Extension. His research and outreach areas included cover crops, soil health, and organic agriculture in Michigan and the Midwest. His research topics were known for stemming from real farmer issues/questions.

Baas’ service to SARE spanned more than 15 years. Baas joined Dale Mutch as a research associate in 2007, and then as the state co-coordinator for Michigan in 2009. He took over as the SARE state coordinator in Michigan when Mutch retired in 2013. Baas stayed on as the Michigan SARE state coordinator until he retired from MSU in 2022. As the face of SARE in Michigan, Baas attended countless events in the state promoting sustainable agriculture and devoted significant time to reviewing SARE grant proposals. Baas served as a Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) Executive Committee member and provided considerable leadership during their Cover Crop Decision Tools development from 2007 until his retirement. After retiring in 2022, Baas continues to serve on the MCCC Executive Committee, as an advisor on the Long-Term Agroecosystems research (LTAR) project at the MSU W. K. Kellogg Biological Station and co-teaches the multi-institution cover crops in agroecosystems class at MSU.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Baas was nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • Dean's work has impacted untold numbers of farmers, landowners, and citizens. If that is combined with his technical assistance and outreach as an Extension Educator, I do not doubt that Dean's human contacts and impacts number in the thousands. On a more personal level, I have first-hand knowledge of Dean's willingness to help in the onboarding process of new NCR-SARE state coordinators and Midwest Extension Educators working in his areas of focus. His knowledge and experience, friendly smile, gregarious personality, and sense of humor make him a great addition to any team and work in sustainable agriculture. - Jill Sackett Eberhart, Board Conservationist at Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and past SARE state coordinator in Minnesota
  • I first met Dean when he was working on his Ph.D. in the Land and Water program at WK Kellogg Biological Station.  Since I was interested in his research we started to discuss all kinds of agricultural issues and practices.  At the same time, the Cover Crop program was growing and interest was very high among farmers and other Extension Agents and Specialists. I asked Dean if he would like to be part of the cover crop program and fortunately, he agreed. As he got his feet wet I introduced him to the NCR-SARE program. As Dean does so well he jumped in with both feet.  We worked closely together as a team for several years representing Michigan.  Dean's leadership in the NCR- SARE program is why he is getting this prestigious Heroes Award. Dean has accomplished so much for sustainable agriculture. He designed a program so that we could evaluate organic soybean varieties in farmers' fields.  He was the key person in developing the "Cover Crop Decision Tool" for farmers and educators. Dean was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Midwest Cover Crop Council (Eight North Central Universities and OMAFRA and Guelph-Ridgetown of Canada). He was the key person in writing the Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide (edition 1) and working with 16 universities and organizations to publish the second edition. He partnered with Dr. Karen Renner at MSU to teach cover crops to her students each year. Dean is the ultimate team player and always goes above and beyond to help colleagues, farmers, and students. Dean has impacted many people throughout his career. He was an absolute pleasure to work with.  He always challenged me and pushed me to be better.  His leadership has enhanced  NCR SARE's mission. - Dale R. Mutch Ph.D., retired MSU Extension senior educator, past SARE state coordinator in Michigan, and 2014 NCR-SARE Hero
  • I began working closely with Dean in 2010 working as one of three watershed coordinators for the Great Lakes Cover Crop Initiative, funded by EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Dean worked with the cover program in Michigan and the Midwest Cover Crop Council. He played a key role in the success of the Initiative as a champion of cover crop adoption and providing technical assistance and support to the watershed coordinators. When Dean took over the role of NCR-SARE state coordinator, his enthusiasm and knowledge took sustainable agriculture to the next level in Michigan and the North Central region. On a more personal note, Dean has been a great mentor for me as well as other Extension educators. He is always available to talk through issues and provide guidance both personally and professionally. Dean has the ability to communicate with researchers, educators, farmers, and students with ease and in a thoughtful manner. He has the ability to make the complexities of sustainable agriculture simple and understandable. He worked with easy with diverse audiences. I can’t forget to mention the constant smile on his face and his caring personality. With his leadership and dedication, sustainable agriculture has gone from a small program to one that has a significant impact on agricultural practices throughout the region and nation. Dean truly is an NCR-SARE Hero. - Paul Gross, retired MSU Extension educator
  • Dean has always provided excellent advice on sustainable ag issues and topics for all SARE State Coordinators to use. Dean was especially helpful in working with me and many others in developing the Decision Tool for Row Crops with the Midwest Cover Crop Council. The importance of soil health and cover crops has been an important component of developing sustainable ag in Nebraska, and I am thankful for the advice Dean has given me over the years! - Gary Lesoing, retired University of Nebraska Extension educator and past SARE state coordinator in Nebraska