Happens! And these farms know what to do
David Poulson Lansing Bureau 4/23/2002
LANSING -- While state
and farm officials unveil Michigan's first "environmentally
verified" farms today, environmental and some rural groups
planned to protest what they view as weak attempts to
regulate animal waste.
Two farms have completed
the voluntary Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance
Program (MAEAP), which helps farmers develop the most
environmentally sensitive way to handle manure. In the
coming months, dozens more are expected to apply for the
state designation, which lets farmers post a sign attesting
to their environmental awareness.
"They develop a plan
that's specific to their farm, and they understand that
they have to be very careful to protect the environment
and they are willing to do what it takes to provide that
protection," said Jan Wilford, who is in charge of the
program for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
Farmers are trained
and then asked to develop a waste handling plan with certified
planners before the Michigan Department of Agriculture
approves the designation. State officials are announcing
the first designations at two hog farms -- one in northwest
Ionia county and another in southeast Calhoun County.
But about the same time,
Michigan's chapter of the Sierra Club is leading a protest
on the steps of the Capitol to highlight what they say
are deficiencies in a program that relies on voluntary
compliance to make sure large farms are not polluting.
"It would be great if
those two farms are environmentally sound, but what about
the other couple of hundred that aren't environmentally
verified?" said Dan Farough, political director for the
The protest is to include
grassroots organizations and farmers and other rural residents
who say they've been harmed by large farm pollution, Farough
said. The group is asking for a moratorium on allowing
farms that produce large amounts of waste.
The dispute is long-standing.
Gov. John Engler resisted federal requirements that the
state regulate large farms. After the Sierra Club sued,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last January
struck a deal with the state to require permits on large
farms that have polluted within the past two years.
The state Department
of Environmental Quality estimates that Michigan has fewer
than 20 such farms.
The agency also estimates
that about 200 to 250 Michigan farms meet the federal
definition of producing enough manure to be classified
as a large Confined Animal Feeding Operation. CAFOs are
farms with more than 1,000 animal units, a term that equates
to the manure produced by 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 pigs,
55,000 turkeys or 100,000 chickens.
Under the agreement
with EPA, Michigan CAFOs that haven't polluted can either
apply for a permit or go through MAEAP to be certified
as environmentally assured.
Those farms have to
be inspected by the DEQ within the next three years, but
no one is sure of their number or where they exist.
"We have not discussed
the steps to take to come up with that list," said Ronda
Wuycheck, who manages the program for the DEQ.
A task force has been
established to draw up the rules for the permit program,
but critics say it has little input from nonfarm or nongovernment
"It is heavily stacked
with groups with a financial stake in a weak program,"
In addition to the environmental
improvements, farmers benefit from MAEAP by knowing precisely
how much manure they apply on fields -- knowledge that
can cut the use of commercial fertilizers, Wilford said.
The state hopes to certify 85 percent of all livestock
producers, regardless of size, as environmentally assured
One of the greatest
benefits may be the 3-foot by 4-foot sign participants
can post on their farms when they participate, advocates
"It's a great way to
tell your neighbors that you are doing everything you
are supposed to do," said Scott Piggott, natural resource
specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau. "It's probably
the only program of its type in the country."
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