Grassroots and priorities | Conservation | Michigan Farm News

Grassroots and priorities

Category: Opinion

by Carl Bednarski, President of Michigan Farm Bureau

Grassed Waterway (MSU-2) 2
Photo courtesy of MSU Extension

Last month you asked, “What does Farm Bureau do for me?” I listed some things the organization has been working on for the agricultural industry. This month, I would like to highlight one of those efforts and give you a more in-depth view of what is happening and how it could affect all of us in this state. The issue is conservation in Lenawee County.

Located in the heart of the Western Lake Erie basin watershed, Lenawee County excels in conservation, with more than 150 Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verifications and participation in thousands of farm bill conservation contracts.

The results are clear – monitoring by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research shows a 25 percent-35 percent decrease in phosphorus entering the River Raisin since 2008, mostly due to farmers’ stewardship. Many farmers also participate in the local watershed group, meeting to share ideas and promote ways to manage nutrients.

It’s not always easy to incorporate conservation into farm planning. It takes extra effort, extra time to complete paperwork, and often extra costs. Farm bill conservation programs are a very valuable source of technical and financial assistance, but they are not painless. In some ways that’s by design, because there are high standards for payment eligibility. In some ways though, the difficulty comes from confusion from the USDA offices about what standards to follow.

In Lenawee County, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently conducted an audit of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, a program that pays for taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. Many farmers’ payments were suspended during the audits, and some were given determinations that they had ineligible lands or practices because of uncertainty about CRP standards.

Technicians and staff at the local and state level work very hard and try to help farmers navigate these requirements, but sometimes even they run into challenges with federal program direction from Washington.

We have discovered that part of the problem with CRP contracts stems from confusion over whether or not filter strips can be placed along drains, which could affect growers statewide.

You may receive letters about current or pending CRP contracts. If you do, I urge you to speak to both your local FSA office and your County Farm Bureau or MFB staff.

Staff and I are communicating with FSA and USDA at the national level and are working with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Senator Debbie Stabenow to both help Lenawee County farmers with audited contracts and ensure filter strips along drains are an allowed practice nationwide.

Part of the power of Farm Bureau is having a voice to share what agriculture needs, and we are using that voice now to find solutions for farmers who are putting good conservation on the ground. Our members and our member-developed policy make this effort a clear priority.

Speaking of which, don’t forget that Michigan Farm Bureau’s 98th annual meeting is coming up at the end of this month. The connections we make with others in agriculture and the culmination of grassroots policy development taking place there is as important now as ever. I hope harvest is going well and I’m looking forward to talking with many of you at state annual.