It can be nerve-wracking having a regulatory agency rep visit your farm, but to volunteer your place for such a visit? I can’t blame you for thinking it sounds like volunteering for a disaster.
But here’s why it’s not:
Most people working for state or federal agencies — including the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — have no on-farm experience.
They’re expected to write rules, permits and restrictions on the activities farmers do every day, but they may not know how any of those activities work in the real world. It’s the kind of information they desperately need if they’re going to understand why farmers have concerns or objections to some of those rules, permits and restrictions.
In late August, Spring Meadow Nursery, Visser Farms, Sandy View Farms, and Gold Coast Farms hosted a tour for EPA’s National Ag Advisor Rod Snyder and Region 5 Ag Advisor Sharmin Syed, along with a group of federal and state staff from Michigan, including EGLE, USDA, MSU, Michigan Association of Conservation Districts and The Nature Conservancy. Legislators came along for part of the tour as well, including U.S. Dist. 4 Representative Bill Huizenga and staff for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.
The tour was organized to build relationships with EPA and showcase the incredible diversity of Michigan agriculture. The farmers got the opportunity to both display their amazing farms and discuss challenges and concerns about everything from labor to pesticide compliance to worker training.
Even better, the tour was designed to take the pressure off: It was not to formally comment on a regulatory proposal, and there were no presentations or agendas — just people eager to see new technologies and innovative crop production.
The Farm Bureau members who opened their farms became ambassadors to the visiting regulators and provided a golden opportunity to both showcase Michigan farming and demonstrate their dedication to environmental protection.
They talked about the need for better compliance tools and training, clarity on standards, and ways they can be more involved in voluntary environmental initiatives. And the regulators had a great time, knowing they could just listen and learn about farms they hadn’t seen before rather than looking for specific compliance issues.
Opening your farm to regulators, legislators and other officials helps them to not only see the challenges farms face, but also how hard farmers work to be good stewards of the environment in producing safe, affordable and abundant food, fiber and fuel.
There is no better person than YOU to talk about how farmers produce high-quality local food while protecting air and water quality, building soil health, and farming both for today and for future generations!
If you’re interested in hosting legislators, agency staff, media or other members of the non-farming public to learn more about your farm’s challenges and successes, reach out to your county Farm Bureau office or MFB Regional Manager. They can help connect you with staff looking for opportunities to get decision-makers out on farms.
It’s one of the most powerful ways you have as a farmer to make your voice heard!