As part of his message to get the people of Michigan involved with their own governance, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a plan to put a portion of the state's environmental integrity into farmers' hands during his first State of the State address Jan. 19.

Snyder vowed to work with the state Legislature on making the nationally acclaimed Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) part of state statute.

The day after the address, Snyder's Quality of Life team, made up of the state Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Environmental Quality, and Natural Resources, was already beginning to take steps to make MAEAP part of state law.

"It is heading toward statute," says Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Keith Creagh. "A priority of this administration is to codify MAEAP in statute to give it relevance and standing.

"What's left now is the heavy lifting. It's a priority program, and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves to make this a great partnership between government and the farming community."

MAEAP is a voluntary, incentive-driven program which helps farmers of all sizes and commodities proactively minimize and/or eliminate agricultural pollution risks on their farms by teaching them how to identify and address those risks in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

To date, more than 850 farmers have been environmentally verified through MAEAP, and by putting it into statute, Creagh says the goal is to get 5,000 farms verified in at least one of MAEAP's four specialties — farmstead, cropping, livestock and greenhouse — in the next few years.

Maligned by some environmental groups for its voluntary nature, MAEAP participation will remain voluntary, Creagh says.

"There is always a need for a regulatory program and a permit system for bad actors, and we won't go backward on that," Creagh said. "But I'm confident that any type of compliance assistance that works with stakeholders is a good program and makes a real difference. And we can quantify the environmental benefits of MAEAP."

Creagh says MAEAP has proven its effectiveness in helping farmers care for the environment. Among other things, MAEAP's erosion-reducing aspects have kept an estimated 55,000 tons of soil per year where it belongs, in farm fields.

MAEAP is also responsible for prompting farmers to install more than 2,400 acres of vegetation or filter strips that help reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff from cropland.

In addition, MAEAP has reduced annual phosphorus loads by more than 184,000 pounds per year, enough to prevent 118 million pounds of algae growth in lakes and streams.

Creagh says he's also impressed that MAEAP-verified farmers typically spend $25,000 from their own pockets to put MAEAP standards into practice, although some farmers spend more and some less.

Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne H. Wood also praised Snyder for giving agriculture considerable attention in his State of the State address and backing up his enthusiasm for the industry by vowing to work with the Legislature on codifying MAEAP.

"Giving MAEAP statutory teeth will help the program appeal to more farmers by providing some of the regulatory stability they are seeking to effectively operate their farms and grow jobs for Michigan families," says Wood.

Source: Michigan Farm Bureau