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MAEAP Verification: Motivations and Opinions of Participating Producers

Dairy producers elect to participate in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program for a variety of reasons, including concerns about environmental regulations, possibility of lawsuits, and community awareness of their operations. A survey of MAEAP participants suggests that many producers believe establishing a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan through MAEAP has been beneficial to their operations. The information collected suggests ways to increase future participation in MAEAP.


Carrie Vollmer-Sanders
Sandra S. Batie
Christopher Wolf
Mary Schulz
Dept. of Agricultural Economics

The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) is a voluntary program created in 1998 by multiple Michigan governmental, industry, and university entities. MAEAP’s purpose is to assist livestock producers with the management of nutrients— particularly those found in manure. To be MAEAP-verified a livestock farm must have an accurate and complete Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) implemented by the producer. Those livestock producers who follow the pollution prevention strategies laid out in the CNMP may be able to reduce the risk of pollution discharges, nuisance complaints, and lawsuits. However, to date, the total participation in the MAEAP program has been small relative to potential participation. This article explores the reasons producers seek MAEAP verification and obstacles they encounter in becoming verified in order to increase understanding of how participation in MAEAP can be improved.

To determine the effectiveness of MAEAP, interviews were conducted with 29 producers from farms that, as of January 1, 2005, were either MAEAP-verified or soon-to-be verified. The 29 producers interviewed represented 63% of all MAEAP-verified livestock producers at that time. The interviewed producers managed a total of 31 operations with various livestock species with a wide range of farm sizes. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) with fewer than 1000 animal units were examined separately. Among dairies, operations with greater than 700 mature dairy cows were classified as CAFOs.

Motivation to Become MAEAP-verified

The motivation to become MAEAP-verified and to undertake a CNMP came from a variety of sources (Table 1). Fifty-eight percent of all operations became verified due, in part, to perceived current or future environmental regulations affecting their farm. This perception was most often held on large farms: 71% of CAFOs’ and only 43% of AFOs’ producers listed regulations as a reason their operations became verified.

Participation in voluntary programs may have been motivated by stewardship ethics. Of the total 29 producers interviewed, eight mentioned that they became verified because they felt it was the “right thing to do.” Some producers indicated that this statement meant they were doing the right things for the environment and their neighbors, others meant that they were setting a good example for other livestock producers in the state. Still others mentioned this statement because they foresaw better profits.

Another strong motivation mentioned was the desire to obtain technical and financial assistance. As part of the MAEAP verification process, producers received assistance to complete the CNMP, to understand the regulations affecting livestock production, and to access sources of financial assistance.

Challenges to Becoming MAEAP-Verified

The most significant hindrance for becoming MAEAP verified, affecting 41% of the 29 producers interviewed was the availability of cropland for land-applying manure (Table 2). Producers attributed this situation to several different factors, including the adequacy of the existing land base, the ability to use manure for its actual nutrient value, the feasibility of crop rotation, and the necessity of hauling manure a longer distance than before MAEAP verification. Also, there was concern about the time spent in spreading manure and keeping records. In order to be able to spread when they had more time, some producers had to change the way they managed their time. For example, one producer changed his rotation to replace corn grain with wheat.

Forty-one percent of all interviewees and 30% of the interviewed dairy producers were concerned about finding enough cropland that had a soil phosphorus level below 150 parts per million (ppm). If the soil tested above this level of phosphorus, but below 300 ppm, then manure could only be spread at agronomic removal rates. If the level was over 300 ppm, then no manure could be spread on that land. Furthermore, transporting manure is costly relative to its nutrient value.

Perhaps because MAEAP is a relatively new program, producers felt they had to deal with inconsistent information among the various participating governmental agencies. Forty percent of the dairy producers identified this inconsistency as an obstacle. Other factors that dairy producers identified as causing delays included inadequate manure storage (20%), finding enough time to keep the additional records (10%), and their own financial situation (10%).

Opinions

The opinions of MAEAP-verified livestock producers relative to MAEAP and the current environmental context were assessed. Each producer was asked to indicate his or her level of agreement with various statements (Table 3).

Interviewed producers strongly disagreed with the statement, “Liability and lawsuits are of little concern for the livestock industry in Michigan.” This disagreement suggests that fear of liability issues and lawsuits may be an important motivation for seeking MAEAP verification. Several of the interviewed producers had had litigation brought against them, or they knew of a neighbor who had been subject to litigation.

The financing for pollution prevention also was addressed. The statement, “Even though clean water benefits the public, producers should pay for the majority of mandatory environmental practices to ensure pollution prevention” was disagreeable to interviewed producers. This result suggests that producers think that financial assistance should be available for becoming MAEAP-verified.

Other statements suggest a positive attitude toward the role that voluntary pollution prevention on the farm can play in protecting environmental quality. Interviewed producers either agreed or strongly agreed with these statements:

  • MAEAP educational programs have helped me become a better steward.
  • My CNMP is so valuable to my operation it is my intention to maintain and update it in the future.
  • My farm operation can be profitable without causing or contributing to any significant water quality pollution.

Conclusion

This study shows that there are many motivations for becoming MAEAP-verified that vary among producers and by type of farm. Dairy producers were particularly concerned about environmental regulations, lawsuits, and community awareness of their operation. These same producers found inconsistent information from agencies as a factor that could delay becoming MAEAP-verified and implementing a CNMP. Another concern was the availability of manure storage and land suitable for the spreading of manure. On average, the dairy producers did find that the MAEAP educational programs have helped to make them better stewards, and they indicated that they intend to update and maintain their CNMP and their MAEAP verification. They strongly believe that their farm operation can be profitable without causing or contributing to any significant water quality problem, although they, in general, believe the public should help to pay for mandatory environmental practices.

Implications for MAEAP Administration

MAEAP verification can be an important step to obtaining reductions in pollution. To improve verified farm numbers, the results of this study suggest that MAEAP administrators can encourage those producers who are verified to explain the advantages to those livestock producers who have not yet participated in MAEAP. The fact that most of the interviewees agreed that they found the verification process and implementation of CNMP so valuable they were going to keep the CNMP updated in order to remain verified is worth emphasizing in future MAEAP messages. MAEAP administrators also can highlight the implications of current and foreseeable regulations for specific livestock farms’ nutrient management practices because these regulations were prime motivators. The enhanced availability of financial and technical assistance via the MAEAP verification route is a strong motivator for many livestock producers and also should be emphasized in recruiting more participation. In some regions and locations, available land for spreading is an obstacle. Solutions such as planting crops that take up large quantities of phosphorus may be identified or the provision of a “clearing house” by MAEAP to match producers with available land with those with excess nutrients might increase participation numbers. Finally, assuring consistent messages from all agencies is important to increase MAEAP participation.


 

 

 

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