MAEAP program improves farm environment

REED CITY — The Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program has been around a while.

For more than a decade, Osceola County farmers have been fulfilling the criteria to become certified in the three-phase, three-system program that helps farms better secure operations against environmental mishaps.

In Osceola County, the program began under the guidance of environmental doyen Fay Wilson and others.

One of the first farms to fulfill the requirements of the program in all three systems — farmstead, cropping, and livestock — was the Wirth dairy operation on 80th Avenue, just outside Evart.

That seems like a long time ago.

In September of 2007, then State Representative, now State Senator Darwin Booher became the first Michigan legislator to earn MAEAP farmstead verification.  At that time 10 farm families who had implemented voluntary environmental risk pollution protection measure were officially certified.  Along with receiving the award from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the former 102nd District lawmaker, now senator from Evart also helped present the awards to other recipients.

A lot has happened in agriculture since then, but the need for a strong certification process remains as farms and farmers face continuing environmental issues on an almost daily basis.

Today, Tasha VanDusen handles responsibilities for the MAEAP program for much of the U.S. 10 corridor.

Although working with the Osceola-Lake Conservation District, VanDusen also covers Clare County as the MAEAP technician.

In the most basic terms, the MAEAP program offers certification for three ag systems in three phases.

Phase One involves education. Phase Two takes on risk assessment on-site, while Phase demands third party verification that the farm involved has, indeed, completed the first two stages of the process.

Farms undergoing the MAEAP program are divided into three types of ag operations, with specific requirements for each — Farmstead, which covers the entire ag operation on an individually owners property; Cropping, which deals with the special needs of crop growing operations such as irrigation, water use, soil conservation, and fertilizer management; and Livestock, which is specifically involved in the many environmental issues the crop up in the raising and operation of any scale livestock business.

After being verified, the project and involvement in the same doesn’t end.

Farms must be reverified every three years or so.

“Most people are good about keeping up with the reverification process,” noted VanDusen. “Especially since it is pretty painless.

“In each of the certification processes there are specific requirements. There is some overlapping of education and assessment, but much of the individual programs is pretty specific to the type of farming operation under review.

“Farmstead certification is somewhat ‘general purpose.’ On the other hand, cropping and livestock certifications deal with special needs of those type of ag operations.”

Most farms have simply taken on certification in all three systems.

One of the most involved aspects of the program is the risk assessment review during which technicians assist the property owner in identifying the potential fro problems — both now and in the future.

This involves looking for possible sources of groundwater contamination on other issues involving storage, use, and disposal of fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, manure, and more.

“Not only do we facilitate the review, but we also can help in resolving any problems that might be uncovered, or that could potentially pop up,” noted VanDusen. “We will help farms and farmers of any size and any type of operation – no one is excluded from our services.”

The time needed to earn MAEAP certification varies with each and every farming operation.

In very general terms, it would take about a year to be certified.

According to VanDusen, dairy facilities are generally the toughest operations to get fully certified, at the same time, she’s convinced there are very definite benefits to undergoing the certification process.

“In becoming MAEAP certified, farm owners are taking serious steps to protect their own groundwater,” she pointed out.

“They are reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous being introduced into our water resources.

“Fame operations are protecting the environment with the safe storage of pesticides and fertilizers. That is really important.

“There also are guideline protections to Right To Farm issues when farms are better certified.”

VanDusen’s work with MAEAP strikes close to home for her. She grew up on a diary farm close to Tustin.

She took over facilitation of Osceola’s MAEAP with the program in good shape.

To date, there are approximately 50 farms in Osceola County certified, and another a couple dozen in the process.

“Around the state there are over 1,000 farms certified in the MAEAP program,” noted VanDusen. “Our goal is to have 5,000 around Michigan.

“That still is only some ten percent of working farms.

“It would be great to actually reach ten percent of farms locally.

“We’ll continue pushing, and I hope we can show that the result of being certified is worth the effort.

“It really is.”

For more information on the MAEAP preogram, contact VanDusen at 832-2950.