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Hearing held on Michigan’s Ag EAP renewal
 
By Kevin Walker
Michigan Correspondent

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan senate held a hearing late last month to consider renewing the fees that fund the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
Without the renewal, funding for the program will expire at year’s end. The fees that have been in place for the past 10 years include a pesticide registration fee and a fertilizer tonnage fee, according to Rebecca Park, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB). MFB was instrumental in devising the MAEAP concept, which has been called innovative and unique. MAEAP relies on the voluntary participation of farmers, who engage in so-called best practices, which are verified by a technician from the agriculture department.
To date, 3,500 farms have become MAEAP verified since 2011, although the program as a concept has been around for more than 20 years. When farmers become MAEAP verified, they get some protection from lawsuits under the state’s Right to Farm law and receive a sign from the state showing their farms are MAEAP verified.
“It’s a great program from a farmer perspective,” Park said. “Farmers are paying into the program; I’ve heard people say this is a super expensive program, but farmers are the ones paying for this. MAEAP has been held as a national model for how to do conservation and environmental protection.” Park participated in the senate agriculture committee hearing, which was June 17. According to the MFB, of the $7.5 million budget that finances MAEAP programming, only $700,000 of that is paid for by the state, with the rest paid for by farmers and agribusinesses.
Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell said that the general public helps to pay for the program as well, since fees for it are assessed on household pesticide products as well as commercial products. McDowell said he is not against MAEAP, only the senate bill currently under consideration.
“I really give the farm bureau credit for coming up with this program,” McDowell said. “It’s been 20 years and we want to have some tough conversations. We don’t want to get rid of MAEAP, we want to make it better. We want to be able to monitor the watersheds better. We feel we really need to monitor the non-point sources of pollution better. We see MAEAP as so important, maybe now more than ever.”
McDowell said he wants more money for MAEAP and for environmental protections generally, including money to compensate farmers for what they have to spend to become MAEAP verified and for more technicians in the field. He expressed some hope that the Biden administration would help to provide funds for more environmental protection for the state. “MAEAP is our prime environmental tool,” McDowell added. “It’s unique in the country; it certainly was unique when it was first conceived.”
Bill sponsor and agriculture committee chairman Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lapeer) criticized MDARD for not showing up at the hearing. “We have proactively reached out to the department on this issue since February, asking for recommendations and feedback on the program,” Daley said in a statement. “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 us today.”
The state senate was set to adjourn late in June or early July and will reconvene for further consideration of the bill in September. The bill is Senate Bill 494.
7/2/2021