The Senate Agriculture Committee recently kicked off the Legislature’s consideration of Senate Bill 494, legislation to continue the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) and renew the fees paid by farmers and agribusinesses to support the program.
Agricultural and environmental groups provided verbal testimony and submitted cards of support or opposition to the bill. Noticeably absent was the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
“We have proactively reached out to the department on this issue since February, asking for recommendations and feedback on the program,” said bill sponsor and committee chair, Sen. Kevin Daley. “While I appreciate the department stating they are hoping to work with us going forward, I think it’s unfortunate that they are not here with suggestions today.”
Groups showing support at the hearing included: Dairy Farmers of America, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, Michigan Corn Growers Association, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Milk Producers Association, Michigan Pork Producers Association, Michigan Soybean Association, Michigan Vegetable Council and Potato Growers of Michigan.
Among those opposing: MDARD, Michigan Agriculture Advancement, Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), Sierra Club and Freshwater Future.
Testifying first before the five-member committee was Michigan Farm Bureau, represented by Legislative Counsel Rebecca Park and Agriculture Ecology Manager Laura Campbell.
Campbell shared that within the last three years, more than 12,000 farms have started the process of working through MAEAP. This is in addition to the nearly 3,500 farms that have completed 6,000 verifications.
“While MAEAP helps farmers protect water quality, it also provides other environmental benefits, such as safe fuel and chemical storage, emergency plan development, integrating safe and effective pest management, and responsibly caring for everything from livestock to wildlife habitats,” Campbell explained. “This is because of the way the program was built: it began and still operates as a partnership between farmers, conservation districts, universities, and state and federal agencies.”
During the hearing, Campbell reminded the committee that farmers pay the fees that pay for MAEAP. While MAEAP’s annual budget is around $7.5 million, only $700,000 of it is state-funded; the balance coming from the fees paid by farmers and agribusinesses.
“We would love for MAEAP to do more, the challenge is always money,” Campbell said. “You can’t put people on the ground—which is what this program depends on—if you don’t pay them.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Winnie Brinks commented that, “It seems like…it would behoove us to take a look at our appropriations for this, that supplement or complement the funds that are received from farmers.”
It is unclear if Senate Bill 494 will receive further consideration or a vote by the committee prior to the Legislature adjourning for summer recess on June 24.
More information on MAEAP can be found here.