Contact: Laura Campbell, (517) 679-5332
While critics have been very vocal about their opposition to the state’s recently released draft Domestic Action Plan (DAP) for the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) due to its reliance on voluntary guidelines and practices in agriculture, the numbers tell a different story, according to Michigan Farm Bureau Ag Ecology Department Manager, Laura Campbell.
Created by the Quality of Life Departments, consisting of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources, the document details a targeted approach aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie to help prevent intense algal blooms in the western part of Lake Erie
“Michigan has already seen a significant phosphorus reduction, reaching the scheduled goal six years ahead of schedule,” Campbell said. “Michigan Farm Bureau supports protecting water quality through voluntary conservation practices in agriculture because it works.”
The biggest voluntary component, Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program or MAEAP, provides farmers on-the ground technical assessment, support and verification of completed conservation practices. According to MDARD, 155 additional verifications in the WLEB basin were completed over the last two years, another 24 verification thus far this year.
A 2016 study of the Western Lake Erie Basin by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also credited voluntary conservation in “making significant headway” in reducing nutrient and sediment losses from farm fields.
Their study, simulated the removal of all conservation practices in WLEB showed that conservation practices in use in 2012 reduced annual sediment losses by 81 percent (9.1 million tons per year), reduced total nitrogen losses by 36 percent (40.6 million pounds per year), and reduced total phosphorus losses by 75 percent (11.4 million pounds per year).
“These are indisputable improvements that MFB hopes will help to prioritize voluntary conservation to increase accessibility and participation across the watershed encouraging farmers to implement additional conservation practices,” Campbell said. “Overly burdensome regulations are expensive, they can’t be tailored to specific conditions the way voluntary on-farm practices can, and they stifle innovation of new ways to keep nutrients on the farm and out of waterways.”
According to Campbell the DAP follows the goals established by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement’s Annex 4 Working Group, a 2015 agreement signed by Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario for phosphorus reduction. “Ultimately, the DAP focuses on actions MFB policy supports, and which many farmers are already doing, through proactive relationships in conservation,” Campbell said.
The final version of Michigan’s Domestic Action Plan will be integrated into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s comprehensive plan, scheduled for release in February 2018, and Michigan Farm Bureau will continue to participate in conversations on how encouraging more farmers to explore voluntary conservation efforts can lead to a balanced ecosystem in the Western Lake Erie Basin.