Although the book has officially closed on the public comment period to proposed revisions of the state’s Right to Farm Act’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs), the drama and challenges specifically to proposed revisions of Michigan’s Siting guidelines, calling for removal of any zoning conformance will likely continue.
The Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) had announced a public comment period that officially ended on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.
According to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Government Relations Specialist, Matt Kapp, public comments were accepted on a number of GAAMPs, including proposed changes for Manure Management and Utilization; Care of Farm Animals; Irrigation Water Use in addition to Site Selection and Odor Control for New and Expanding Livestock Facilities.
According to Kapp, the GAAMPs are reviewed annually by committees of various experts and are revised and updated as necessary, before they’re reviewed and approved by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development each year.
“MFB continues to believe that Michigan’s Right to Farm Act is the model for our country,” Kapp said. “There’s no question – Right to Farm has allowed all sectors of Michigan agriculture to move forward utilizing GAAMPs on a voluntary basis while enhancing and protecting the environment.”
According to Kapp, MFB weighed in with strong written support of the proposed changes to remove any reference of zoning within the Siting GAAMPs, saying that requiring zoning conformance in the Siting GAAMP is contrary to the legislative intent of the 1999 amendment to the Right to Farm Act.
“A growing number of townships have developed their own ordinances regulating livestock agriculture as an end-around to the state’s Siting GAAMPs within Right to Farm,” Kapp said, referencing recent examples in Genesee County’s Fenton Township and Calhoun County’s Leroy Townships where local township officials attempted to use zoning ordinances to effectively box-out agriculture.
“There have been other cases such as Brady Township, in Kalamazoo County, where local officials used the zoning conformance requirement against farmers by changing the zoning in a portion of the township with the explicit intent to restrict expansion of livestock agriculture,” he said. “There was another case in a very rural area of Newaygo County, where a producer was denied siting approval because the site resided in a zoning district that did not allow agriculture, even though the farmer was planning to build a facility in the middle of a forest – the site was more than ideal for a livestock production facility.”
As expected, the Michigan Townships Association went on the offensive in the final three days of the public comment period, claiming in their organizational Insights newsletter that the, “New GAAMPS draft would allow large livestock facilities almost anywhere.”
They urged township officials to tell the state’s ag commission, “not to eliminate zoning considerations from a section of the Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs).”
“This draft would eliminate local land uses and plans from site selection criteria, meaning if this draft becomes final, large livestock facilities could locate almost anywhere, with no consideration of local zoning. MTA opposes this dramatic policy shift and is asking township officials to contact commission members as soon as possible to share your objection to this proposed draft,” according to the newsletter.
While not surprised, Kapp said the last-minute MTA challenge is very misleading. “The GAAMPs still establish basic set-back standards for livestock facilities of all sizes,” he said. “The GAAMPs also still require consideration of existing land uses, development patterns, the cost-benefit of an investment in animal housing, as well as the sustainability of farm animal production before construction of a livestock facility begins.”
According to Kapp, the state’s siting GAAMPs were written to provide uniform, statewide standards and acceptable management practices based on sound science for the construction of new and expanding livestock facilities.
“The Siting GAAMPs still fulfill three primary objectives: environmental protection; social considerations (neighbor relations); and economic viability,” Kapp explained. “When all three of these objectives are met, the ability of a farm operation to achieve agricultural sustainability is greatly increased.”
Kapp anticipates the Siting GAAMP Advisory Committee chairs and MDARD staff will present the proposed revisions to the five-member Michigan Ag Commission in early November, which is expected to review and then vote on the recommendations at a future Ag Commission meeting in early 2019.