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Conservation Districts are the Gateway to MAEAP

Posted on 2012-3-15EDT12:47PM

See the Michigan Farm News full article, sponsored by the Shiawassee Conservation District

Field visits, phone calls, meetings and trainings are all things that can fill up a Conservation District technician’s day. Each task, whether the process is just beginning or is being completed, is done in order to achieve the same goal – provide for the care, informed usage and protection of our natural resources.

The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) is an outstanding way for farmers to protect our environment, with the added benefit of regulatory incentives and improved neighbor relations.

The first step towards MAEAP verification is to visit your local District office. Conservation Districts are “gateways” in their local communities, providing linkages between land managers and conservation service providers including state, federal and local governments. District technicians are professionals in their field, staying up to date on innovative conservation practices, Farm Bill conservation programs and laws and regulations.

A Conservation District’s technician meets with the producer, on the farm, to complete a free and confidential risk assessment based on the farming operation. The Farm*A*Syst, Crop*A*Syst, Greenhouse*A*Syst and Livestock*A*Syst tools are used to determine potential environmental risks on the farm. The process of completing an assessment can take an afternoon, but the results are invaluable to the farm. The completed document not only provides the producer with a list of potential risks associated with the farm, but it also gives the technician the opportunity to assist the producer in the development of an improvement action plan. This is key in moving forward with the next steps, address risks and MAEAP verification.

The improvement action plan developed for the producer outlines steps that must be taken in order to reach conservation goals and reduce environmental risks. District technicians offer  technical and conservation planning assistance in all areas of the farm, including headquarters, fields and livestock. In addition, Conservation Districts works in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to enroll the producer in Farm Bill conservation programs in order to receive financial assistance for practices that help to reduce environmental risks.

For the producer, addressing potential environmental risks on their farm could take as little as a month or as long as years, depending on the individual situation. For the District technician, an important element of this process is to develop trust and a working relationship with the producer and to eventually achieve verification for the farm. Rules, regulations and recommendations can be overwhelming, and one of the technician’s jobs is to help the producer understand these rules and regulations.

How far should the waste storage be from the drinking well, how do you handle animal mortalities and how do you store hazardous materials are among the risk questions that may need to be addressed. Eliminating or reducing the risk could be as easy as using a sharps container, having a spill kit, or properly disposing of unused pesticides during a Clean Sweep event. Other solutions may be more involved, such as installing filter strips, preparing a comprehensive nutrient management plan, moving or upgrading fuel tanks, or installing an agrichemical handling facility.

Once the producer has addressed farm risk, they are ready to become MAEAP verified.

“The final determination of reaching MAEAP verification is made by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, it is the relationship between the farmer and their local Conservation District that works towards preparing the farm for MAEAP verification,” states Tom Wert, Shiawassee Conservation District technician.

The relationship between the Conservation District and the producer doesn’t end at verification. Updated assessments in the applicable system are required every 3 years. Conservation Districts, such as the Shiawassee Conservation District, work daily with producers to help them evaluate their farming operations and initiate conservation practices to reduce risks on the farm.