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October 2006

MAEAP Involvement Spurs Changes in Small and Medium-Sized Michigan Farms

A record number of farms participated in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program in 2005, and many of them made changes that went beyond merely meeting regulations. A summary of changes made on Michigan farms of small and medium size shows that many forward-thinking producers are voluntarily taking steps to reduce negative environmental impacts.

Jan Wilford
Michigan Department of Agriculture

Although small and medium-sized livestock operations have the potential to contribute to water quality problems, most are not required to follow those specific rules that apply to large sized animal feeding operations. However, all farms are subject to Michigan law that prohibits any discharge of pollutants that harm water quality. Farmers understand that addressing agricultural pollution concerns in their facilities in a timely fashion may prevent more prescriptive regulatory solutions. Practice changes made on small and medium sized livestock farms in 2005 through involvement in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) reflect these farmers’ commitment to voluntarily address environmental resource concerns in their farms (Table 1).

MAEAP provides an excellent opportunity for Michigan farmers to proactively and voluntarily manage their farms for the protection and enhancement of soil and water quality. With confidentiality guaranteed by law, MAEAP provides a structure under which Michigan farmers can be assured they are effectively using all current Right to Farm Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPS) and are complying with state and federal environment laws specific to the program. For livestock producers, the pinnacle of accomplishment in MAEAP is farm verification, which results from an independent farm inspection following the implementation of a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP).

Some producers may elect to immediately pursue the completion of a CNMP and verification. However, the “comprehensiveness” of a CNMP can be daunting. Therefore, many producers who own operations of small or medium size find that smaller, more progressive steps in environmental protection and improvement are both economical and practical.

Progressive Approach

The MAEAP Livestock System Progressive Planning approach to environmental assurance is designed to meet the needs of those small and medium-sized livestock operations owned by producers who are not yet interested, ready, or able to implement a CNMP and receive verification. The Progressive Planning approach offers seven options reflecting components of a CNMP. Producers can work on these options at their own pace. One-on-one, confidential guidance and assistance from the non-regulatory MAEAP partnering organizations are available. As progress is made, additional goals and timeframes are established.

2005 Accomplishments

  • A record 550 small and medium sized farms participated in MAEAP Progressive Planning.
  • Dairy farms represented the largest participation with 485 farms, 88% of the total.
  • Swine followed with 16 farms, 3% of the total and beef with 11 farms, 2% of the total. Thirty-eight farms, 7% of the total, had mixed species.
  • Participating dairies own over 31,500 cows/young stock of less than 1000 lb and almost 38,000 cows over 1000 lb, managed on 155,000 acres.
  • Almost 20% of the small and medium-sized farms eliminated a direct discharge of agricultural pollutants to lakes, streams or ditches. A total of 130 direct discharges were eliminated on 101 farms.
  • Twelve percent of the participating farms eliminated at least one area of high risk of discharge. A total of 186 high discharge risks were eliminated.
  • Almost 700 changes were made to achieve nutrient sustainability, including adding additional acres, reducing animal numbers, moving to higher yield crops, changing crop rotations, and reducing phosphorus in feed rations.
  • Almost 50% of involved farms adopted or modified their soil testing regimen.
  • Approximately one-third of involved farms reduced commercial fertilizer applications and developed record keeping systems. Almost one third calibrated manure equipment and adopted the Right to Farm phosphorus guidelines.
  • Over 1000 conservation practices were implemented including site specific field evaluations, mapping sensitive areas, planting cover crops, changing tillage practices, installing buffers, and evaluating fields for the appropriateness of winter manure application.
  • Almost half of all participants modified their mortality management practices to include timely disposal.
  • Forty percent developed a plan to enhance relations with neighbors related to manure application and odor management.

Planning Options

The order and priority of each of the seven different Progressive Planning options is determined by the farmer to match farm-specific environmental, business, and production goals. The options are:

  • Confidential Site Review and Completed Action Plan. This detailed review by a skilled technical advisor looks at common areas of concern and farm specific risks at the production area.
  • Whole Farm Nutrient Balance. This component of the long-term sustainability of a livestock farm balances nutrients generated through the livestock system with nutrients used within a cropping system.
  • Manure Spreading Plan. Includes soil testing, manure sampling, rate of manure per acre, nutrients per acre, the pre-sidedress nitrate test, record keeping, planning, and long term sustainability.
  • Conservation Practices on Fields Used for Manure Application. Includes evaluating the potential for nitrogen and phosphorus transport off-site (to surface and/or groundwater) and locating sensitive field areas and identifying and implementing appropriate conservation practices to address the risk.
  • Emergency and Employee Training Plans. Emergency plans identify the proper response in the event of a spill or discharge, including on-farm communication designed to prevent emergencies and to respond appropriately if/when they happen. Training is designed specific to the farm and farm employee needs.
  • Mortality & Veterinary Medical Waste Disposal. Requirements and record keeping for livestock mortality management are identified, along with proper disposal of vet waste.
  • Odor Management Plan. This plan identifies odor sources and magnitude, impact on neighbors, and management systems and practices that can reduce odors while developing positive neighbor relations.

For More Information

Summary tables of all 2005 Progressive Planning Practice Changes on Small and Medium-Sized Livestock Farms and species totals can be obtained at <http://www.maeap.org>. Click on the Livestock System and use the “search” option for Progressive Planning.

 

 

 

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