GRATIOT COUNTY HERALD    Thursday, July 14, 2016

Farm Bureau members meet with local environmentalists

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by Rosemary Horvath 
For the Herald
Kelvin Grant, president of Gratiot County Farm Bureau board of directors, envisioned an opportunity to bring members of the agricultural community and members of a local group, often critical of agriculture practices, together to share information.
“It was to allow the community to see we do have growers concerned with the environment,” Grant said prior to the June 30 dinner that had Farm Bureau recognize 25 growers for completing the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. (Names and photos were published in the July 7 Gratiot Herald).
“We don’t want to kill the environment.”
The dinner which was held at the fairgrounds in Alma featured Laura Campbell, manager of the agricultural ecology department at Michigan Farm Bureau in Lansing, and Lindsey Martin, MAEAP technician for Gratiot and Clinton counties.
Jane Keon, Chuck Sandro and others from the Healthy Pine River group, Alma College biology professor Tom Keeton, who studies water samples from the river, Mid-Michigan Health Department Health Officer Marcus Cheatham Gratiot Conservation District Administrator Julie Spencer all attended.
Keeton and Alma College geology professor Murray Borrello have led teams of students testing water quality that, at short periods of time, show high levels of E.coli bacteria. Malfunctioning septic systems and farm field runoff are prime suspects.
Accumulation of nitrogen, phosphorous and other compounds have caused huge aquatic vegetation throughout the waterway. A fishing tournament recently in St. Louis was challenged by a thick carpet of vegetation at the shore.
Campbell said too much phosphorous entering Michigan waterways drives algal blooms. U.S. Department of Agriculture has best management practices to minimize the impact of agricultural-related phosphorus.
As of 2012, the state curtailed most phosphorus fertilizer applications on residential and commercial lawns. A finished sewage sludge, organic manure or a manipulated manure like compost can be applied but is limited to 0.25 pounds of phosphorus per 1,000 square feet.
Fertilizer cannot be applied to frozen soil or soil saturated with water, but this sometimes happens if the weather turns too quickly. This violation has been a criticism leveled at the farm community.
Campbell noted that MAEAP is a voluntary stewardship program started by farmers. The step by step verification program began in 1997 and was expanded by Governor Snyder in 2011. The program now has state funding and is housed within the Department of Agriculture.
According to Campbell, the volume of nutrients kept out of waterways equals 1 million tons of algae. Farmers have kept enough manure out of their fields to fill 160,000 dump trucks. To date, nearly 3,000 farms have been MAEAP verification. Goal is 6,000 by 2020.
Martin walked the group through the three-phase MAEAP process starting with education, farm assessment and verification. A farmer can access any or all of the process but must complete the entire program to receive verification.
She divides her time between Gratiot and Clinton counties and maintains office space at conservation district offices. She works with residential land owners up to large dairy operations. Her job can “encompass everyone and everything,” she said, including wetlands, forest, habitat and timber harvests.
To get to the root of each situation, she asks what are the environmental risks for each property? How is it connected to groundwater and surface water? Where is your well on your property? Where and how do you store fuel, fertilizer? Where is your livestock housed?
“It could take two months or maybe seven years,” Martin said. The initial goal is for a client to fully implement cost-effective pollution prevention practices and remove the environmental risks.
She does not carry out the inspection. This step is performed by a third-party state official. Verification extends five years and then has to be re-inspected.
The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service makes available cost-sharing programs to help farmers finance pollution controls such as filter mounds, grass waterway, nutrient management plans and forest management plans.
“Options are limitless,” Martin said.