Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 27, 2013

Ag Forum: Roadblocks to workshop

BY JESSICA RASCH Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It is quite common to drive around the Grand Traverse region and see several “This Farm is Environmentally Verified” signs along scenic country roads, indicating a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verified farm.

MAEAP verification assures growers they are truly doing the right thing for the land they love by preserving its integrity for future generations. While more and more local growers are pursuing the voluntary pollution prevention program, there still remains several roadblocks a grower may encounter on the way to verification.

In a two-part series, MAEAP representatives from local conservation districts, along with representatives from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will host on-site workshops identifying common roadblocks and provide technical support on how to overcome the obstacles to become MAEAP verified. The first event will be hosted on Aug. 15 on the newly verified Evans Brothers Farms in Benzie County in the format of an informative barn meeting. On Sept. 15, a farm tour will encompass several farms in Benzie and Manistee counties, highlighting growers in the process of becoming verified.

As a farmer travels down the road to becoming MAEAP verified, NRCS can be a valuable tool to help you along. NRCS is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture, and its job is to assist private landowners with planning and implementing conservation practices on their land. These conservation practices protect soil and water quality.

So what can you expect when working with NRCS? The agency helps you plan and implement your conservation goals: anything from getting more forage growth from your pastures, providing habitat for native pollinators, managing nutrient inputs for your crop, or matching which trees grow best in your soil type. Goals can be as complex or as simple as you wish, but NRCS assists with those goals by applying sound science and helping with the logistics to make your conservation goal a reality. When progressing toward becoming a MAEAP verified farm, NRCS works with you in three ways: planning, technical assistance, and financial assistance.

Conservation planning is learning your goals for your property, organizing them, and coming up with solutions to implement your goal. NRCS will walk the land with you to get a first-hand understanding of the challenges, limitations, and special features of each operation. This walk through involves making an inventory of resources and identification of the problem areas. Using field visit data and resources like soil maps, air photos etc., NRCS will work with you to come up with solutions to implement your goal. The plan that results is your map to follow to get your goals onto the ground.

NRCS is a technical agency. It is an agency of planners, engineers, biologists, agronomists, soil scientists, and many other professionals. If you already have a plan, and are looking for some quick answers to problems or just friendly advice, these resource professionals are available for you.

Financial assistance is used to offset the cost of installing or implementing your conservation goal. Conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program can be used to offset your project cost, making installation or adoption of your project easier. The biggest hurdles to MAEAP verification that NRCS provides financial assistance for is handling and storage of manure, erosion on high-traffic areas (livestock or equipment), disposal of dead animals, cropland soil erosion (wind & water), management of pest and nutrients to improve soil and water quality, safe storage/mixing loading of agri-chemicals, and fuel storage. Each of these road blocks NRCS assists with financially, helping to move you down the road to MAEAP verification.

If you are thinking about MAEAP and are dealing with one of the above items on your farm, contact your local NRCS office. In Grand Traverse or Leelanau counties, contact 231-941-0951. In Benzie or Manistee counties, call 231-889-9666, or in Antrim or Kalkaska counties, call 231-533-8709.

For more information regarding the Roadblocks to MAEAP verification meetings, please contact Jessica Rasch at jrasch@gtcd.org or 231-941-0960 ext. 23.