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Monroe News: Walberg pushes bill to reduce algae in Lake Erie

September 1, 2017
Tim In The News

Rose and John Stahl, partners in the Mr. Wizards’ Hop Farm in Raisinville Township, got their farm verified as environmentally friendly when they first started the business in 2015.

“That was one of the first things we did,” Rose said Thursday. “We were already Farm Bureau members, but thought it was a good investment” in being good stewards of the land.

The farm is one of about 100 farms in the county verified in cropping systems and farmsteads through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program ( MAEAP). The state program that promotes conservation and assists growers in complying with state and federal environmental regulations and with Right- to- Farm practices could be a model for other states to follow, U. S. Rep. Tim Walberg told about 18 growers and environmental officials from the DNR and Monroe Conservation District at a town hall- like meeting at Heck Farms in Monroe Township.

“This would be a great model to share with other Great Lakes’ states,” the Republican congressman from Tipton said during a roundtable discussion inside a pole barn. “It’s a voluntary program and uses the best methods, like filter strips, to protect our water resources. I think it would be something valuable for the Great Lakes and would give an incentive to other states to do the right thing. They may want to do it different.”

Walberg introduced the bill called the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Act recently along with Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Youngstown, Ohio, to counter sharp criticism of agriculture being blamed for the harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie. The legislation basically provides federal assistance to Great Lakes states like Michigan that offer voluntary assurance programs to help farms minimize agricultural pollution risks such as the blooms. Efforts like MAEAP have successfully helped growers improve conservation, reduce soil erosion and cut down on nutrient runoff into rivers and streams that contribute greatly to the blooms, he said.

Funds would come from the existing federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program ( EQIP) administered by the National Resource Conservation Service and be targeted for states in the Midwest that empty into the Great Lakes and benefit from it.

“This would not add a dime to the federal deficit,” Walberg stressed. “To create a voluntary program is the right approach. The money would target states around the Great Lakes first and foremost. The Great Lakes is perhaps the greatest source of fresh water on earth.

Ed Cooley, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said the DNR is “fully supportive” of MAEAP and allows its accepted practices in its game areas. The DNR oversees several state game areas in the region, including three that lie along the lakeshore.

“Like he said, agriculture gets blamed for the runoff,” Cooley said. “We use these programs in our game areas. Even just having 15- foot filter strips are valuable in filtering runoff.”

There are other sources polluting Lake Erie, including fertilizer runoff from homes and businesses, it was noted.

“It’s not just us,” Walberg said. “It’s stewardship for all of us. We’ll keep cleaning up our act, but others have to do the same.”

Host Jerry Heck cited sales figures of nitrogen and potash from the Fertilizer Institute that showed that farmers are using less fertilizer and phosphorus than they did 40 years ago.

“The trending is down per acre,” Heck said. “Because of improved genetics in both corn and soybeans, we are seeing a more efficient use of fertilizer.”

About a half-dozen growers in Monroe County that have MAEAP-verified farms attended the meeting, including Herb Smith, Don Sahloff, Steve Stotz, Brian Kreps and Heck. Maybee grower Doug Darling, who also has an environmentally friendly farm, said more than 4,000 farms statewide have been verified and 10,000 more are in the process of seeking certification.

“Farmers care about water quality and the environment and that’s why they are (backing) this bill,” said Darling, a member of the Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors. “This is a great time to talk about this to get this regional concept into the next Farm Bill.”

Walberg said that was a goal of sponsors of the bill – to have it incorporated in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“It’s a stand- alone bill for now, but we hope to get it into the next Farm Bill,” the congressman said. “We have all sorts of stewardship programs like MAEAP” that can teach us to be good stewards.”

He cited scripture from Genesis that urged landowners to be “fruitful and use the earth’s resources and reuse them.”

This article originally appeared in the September 1 edition of the Monroe News.