When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, the first piece of legislation he signed into law was the Michigan agriculture environmental assurance program (MAEAP). This important milestone for MAEAP gave Michigan farmers an enhanced tool in environmental stewardship. Now, as Snyder’s term comes to close at the end of 2018, the program hopes to reach the goal he established at the time of signing: 5,000 verifications.
"When Governor Snyder challenged us to reach 5,000 verifications we knew it was a lofty goal, and one we would have to work hard, with our partners, to achieve," says Joe Kelpinski, MAEAP manager. "We are now within 400 verifications of the goal and excited to celebrate this milestone with all the people that helped make it happen."
Narrowing in on the 5,000th verification is particularly rewarding given the humble beginnings of what is now a leading environmental program in the country.
Beginning with a group of concerned farmers and industry leaders in the late-1990’s looking for a way to create a farmer-driven, voluntary program to address environmental concerns, MAEAP has evolved to a comprehensive program tailored to four systems: Farmstead, Livestock, Cropping, and Forest, Wetlands and Habitat.
"The ‘90s were a very interesting time for agriculture," Kelpinski says. "The livestock industry was under a lot of pressure as consumers became more concerned about where their food comes from and how it is grown or raised. At the same time, farmers were struggling with a way to tell their story and explain modern farming practices to people who are two and three generations removed from the farm."
With the Snyder-backed legislation, MAEAP gained more traction within the industry, and more importantly, the resources to implement a more consistent program.
"Although the program has evolved and gained more resources, it is still a voluntary, farmer-driven program. It was developed by farmers to provide them a means of showing the efforts they put forth in being good stewards of the environment to their neighbors and their community. This continues today with our industry advisory committee who provide input and oversight to the program. Working with industry as a whole, as well as conservation districts and state and federal agencies, the program has gained credibility as a leading environmental assurance program.
The hybrid group of representatives on the advisory committee assure that both the farmers’ needs and resources as well as environmental stewardship are taken into consideration as the standards are written.
These standards, unique to each system, provide a framework for MAEAP technicians working with farmers seeking verification. Using the standards, MAEAP technicians work with the farmers to identify areas or practices to manage more effectively to meet the MAEAP standards. Throughout the process, the farm’s information and evaluation is kept confidential.
"Farmers’ confidentiality is guaranteed by law," Kelpinski says. "MAEAP provides a structure allowing Michigan farmers assurance they are effectively following approved standards. These standards are consistent with the identified Right to Farm Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs). Through MAEAP, farmers demonstrate to their neighbors they are working to comply with state and federal environmental laws specific to each system of the program."
MAEAP standards are continually evaluated by the advisory committee to include any new practices or to refine existing ones. The ongoing review and evaluation of the program and standards has generated a new system - forest, wetlands and habitat - and tools such as Livestock-A-Syst and Crop-A-Syst to help farmers meet their goals. "Our partner network is extremely important in keeping MAEAP standards current," Kelpinski says. "We have several organizations and individuals providing resources and technical expertise that is vitally important to the program."
With the 5,000 verification now in sight, Kelpinski and the rest of the MAEAP team are looking forward to recognizing the accomplishment with all those that made it happen. A celebration for MAEAP farms and partners is planned for March 2019.
"When MAEAP first started, we didn’t think we would get 500 verifications," Kelpinski says. "It is exciting that we are about to reach our 5,000th verification. It is really a testament to what farmers and the industry can do when they work together toward a common goal."
For more information on MAEAP visit maeap.org
Link to the full MAEAP Goal Within Sight article: