ERIE TWP., Mich. — Time is running out for farmer Ray Swan, of Erie Township. Township officials have told Swan if he doesn’t remove his old farm equipment from his property by Sept. 18 they will hold an auction on his farmstead and sell off the offending equipment.
According to Township Supervisor Bill Frey, the problem at Swan’s property has been going on for about two years. "We just had a meeting Tuesday about whether to grant him an extension and the board said no," Frey said last week.
The Tuesday he referred to would have been Aug. 12. Frey said some of Swan’s equipment is "quite old. He has a lot of it sitting in his front yard. His grass isn’t mowed. Evidently a building official gave him a blight ticket."
Frey explained the whole thing started when Swan’s front porch had caved in, but he eventually fixed that, Frey added. According to Frey, Swan goes to many auctions and similar venues and buys old farm equipment.
Eventually, the matter ended up in court and, according to Frey, the judge said the Right to Farm Act in Michigan doesn’t apply in Swan’s case because he wasn’t using so-called best management practices, the applicable standard under the Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices, or GAAMPs.
GAAMPs are rules promulgated as part of the state’s Right to Farm law. Right to Farm can give farmers special protections from lawsuits, but only if they are operating under GAAMPs guidelines.
According to Swan, the whole thing started when the township sued him in January 2013. "I’ve got a lot of farm machinery sitting around here," the farmer said. "The township said they’d allow one tractor, one disc and one sprayer for my operation."
Swan has 70 acres he uses to grow corn and soybeans, although it isn’t clear he’s been farming every year. He explained the judge went along with the township’s wishes, except he told Swan he could have three tractors to plow with instead of just one.
"In the lawsuit it’s called ‘garbage,’ ‘refuse’ and ‘trash,’" Swan stated. "They wouldn’t give me the respect of calling them antiques. This is historical machinery; it’s not a junkyard and it’s not trash."
Swan has a sign up on one of his outbuildings that reads "Swan’s Historical Farming Artifacts & Collectibles," for which he paid $200.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) official Tim Kwiakowski is familiar with Swan’s situation, but when contacted refused to say anything about Swan’s case, citing confidentiality issues.
According to MDARD spokeswoman Jennifer Holton, Swan is in the process of asking for a proactive inspection to determine if his operation complies with the GAAMPs. She said the department has requested paperwork to review prior to an on-site inspection.
In general, Right to Farm cases are won after MDARD does a GAAMP inspection as required by the law, or are won on appeal, said Wendy Banka, president of the Michigan Small Farm Council. There hasn’t been such an inspection yet of Swan’s farmstead. She stated the most important thing right now is for MDARD to do the inspection to determine if Swan is meeting its criteria for the GAAMPs.