Receiving overwhelming bipartisan support, the state Senate this week approved legislation (34-1) to continue the voluntary and statewide Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
With only nine sessions days remaining, the state House will need to move quickly, with the current law governing the program set to expire at the end of this calendar year.
Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lum), sponsor of Senate Bill 494 and a Lapeer County farmer, succinctly said the legislation “is an extension of a good program that works well.”
“We’re hoping the bill does well on the House side,” Daley said. “I expect us to be able to get the votes and get it passed through there. We have to get it done by the end of the year.”
Daley added that one of the most important things to him is that the program remains voluntary. The legislation also extends the funding sunset and renews the fertilizer and pesticide fees paid by farmers and agribusinesses to fund MAEAP through Dec. 31, 2025.
For more than 20 years, MAEAP has helped farms of all sizes and commodities reduce agricultural pollution risks. The voluntary program helps farmers adopt cost-effective practices to reduce erosion and runoff into ponds, streams, and rivers.
Participating farms can earn MAEAP verification in four different systems, including Farmstead, Cropping, Livestock, and Forest, Wetlands, and Habitat. Currently, the program has awarded more than 6,000 verifications to producers who have completed the program and implemented the recommended conservation practices.
Michigan Farm Bureau, remaining supportive of the bill, recently stated that the organization’s member-driven priorities are reflected in the legislation.
Improving water quality programs
Daley also spoke to the $25 million recently included in the state budget for a new pilot program to further support implementation of agricultural nutrient best management practices that improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
He explained the funds were part of an agreement with the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
“We needed some more dollars in there just to be able to go in and do some research and development into what can be done to improve the (MAEAP) program,” Daley said.
According to the budget language, the funds can be used in a variety of ways including grants and cost-share opportunities to help implement on-farm conservation practices, technical support, soil or water quality testing, and education outreach and training.
Michigan Farm Bureau was also supportive of the separate funding measure.
“We look forward to an opportunity for conversations with the department and other stakeholder groups on how the additional funding will be utilized,” said MFB Legislative Counsel Rebecca Park. “The MAEAP Advisory Council has been a model for success. We’d anticipate a similar process that allows for input and involvement on how best to utilize those funds to assist with the implementation of conservation practices.”