|By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
BELDING, Mich. — Aaron Gasper is the fourth generation to work on his family’s dairy farm. And, at 31, he knows that farming is a lot different than it used to be.
As good stewards of agriculture, he and his parents, Ken and Jane Gasper, whom he farms in a partnership with, decided to get ahead of the regulatory game by becoming verified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
MAEAP, a voluntary program designed to help reduce farmers’ legal and environmental risks, includes the farmstead, livestock and cropping systems.
The farmstead system addresses the environmental risks of the entire operation, such as proper pesticide storage and safe handling of fuels.
The livestock system focuses primarily on environmental issues related to livestock production, such as manure management and protecting fresh water.
The cropping system addresses environmental issues as they relate to field activities such a nutrient and pest management, soil conservation and irrigation.
The Gaspers have been working on their Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) since last summer – a process Aaron said he hopes will be finished within the year.
The CNMP, he said, will “help everything flow into our MAEAP verification.”
The family milks about 260 Holstein cattle on their rural Belding farm and raises about 250 young stock until they’re yearlings. At that time they are sent to a heifer grower due to limited livestock space. They also grow corn, alfalfa, soybeans and wheat on about 900 acres.
The CNMP, a plan for how nutrients, such as manure, will be stored on the farm and then spread and utilized by the crops being grown, is the Gaspers’ first step toward MAEAP verification.
Aaron said the farm has always kept records of soil sampling, crop rotations, where manure has been spread and other farm management records.
“It will help us be better managers and for our neighbors and public to know that we are for agriculture and for doing a good job,” Aaron said of the CNMP and MAEAP.
“As soon as our CNMP is finished, it’s all a matter of keeping good records and good management,” he said.
Aaron said they have identified some areas of the farm that need to be updated in order to meet the MAEAP requirements.
“We’re going to have to do some things as far as roof run-off to keep it from running into open (cattle) lots,” he said.
He said the farm is considering a roofing system with gutters that would divert clean water away from the manure.
Another area the Gaspers have identified is to build a containment around where fertilizer is stored and loaded.
“It would be a precaution in case of an emergency spill,” Aaron said.
He said he believes that both of these improvements would help them follow the best farming practices with the smallest amount of environmental impact.
“From a proactive standpoint, CNMP and MAEAP are going to be very beneficial programs for agriculture,” Aaron said. “Most farmers, and I hope the public, will find it acceptable. It’s a proactive way of farming.”
“We’re hoping that this voluntary process will work rather than being permitted for everything,” he said.
A package of six bills that define MAEAP were introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives on Feb. 16. They still are in committee, according to State Rep. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan.
House Bill 5711 amends the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).
The bill states that if a farm is MAEAP verified, it will not be considered to have violated NREPA unless the producer knowingly or recklessly caused impairment of the state’s natural resources. The provision applies to all MAEAP verified farms.
Other MAEAP legislation includes:
•H.B. 5712, which addresses water discharge
•H.B. 5713, which requires the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to develop a booklet identifying environmental laws and rules that are significant to farms
•H.B. 5714, which focuses on unverified complaints against MAEAP verified farms
•H.B. 5715, which would shift authority and management of non-point source grants under Part 88 of NREPA from DEQ to the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA)
•H.B. 5716, which would shift authority and management of non-point source funds under Part 53 of NREPA titled Clean Water Assistance from DEQ to MDA
Emmons, who owns and operates a dairy farm near Sheridan with her husband, Jerry, said the MAEAP legislation is important “to protect the environment and make sure agriculture can operate profitabily.
“The one thing you want to do is protect your domestic food supply. In Michigan this is a good start toward that,” she said. “We have no control over the rest of the world and their food production. It comes into this country. At least in Michigan you will have some reassurance of how it has been produced and that your environment has been protected.”
For more about MAEAP, visit a href="http://www.maeap.org" target="_blank">www.maeap.org or the Michigan Department of Agriculture website at www.michigan.gov
This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.