Agricultural runoff

Tracing agricultural runoff

Contributors to beach contamination often come from inland sources. Agricultural runoff is a nonpoint pollution source—it comes from an array of different sources carried in runoff from rain or melting snow that are hard to trace. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.”

While the contributors to this type of beach pollution may not be definitive, here’s a tip sheet to help report on affected communities and identify stories in your region.

Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP)  

The voluntary program includes farmers, Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Farm Bureau, commodity organizations, universities, conservation districts, conservation groups and state and federal agencies.

The program requires farms complete educational seminars, a thorough on-farm risk assessment, and development and implementation of an action plan addressing potential environmental risks.

The program is controversial—opponents worry it will protect polluters without strict oversight from the state (the program is voluntary). They have argued it violates the Clean Water Act, and the program falls short of  requiring a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System  permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The program allows farmers to do a self audit of their own farm practices after attending education sessions about nutrient management plans, current state laws and zero discharge standards. A plan using environmentally sound practices is designed and then evaluated by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development verifiers, who certify farms once they are brought into compliance.

Stories from this:

  • Are farms in your community improving environmental quality with these standards?
  • How many farms in your community are program certified, and how many violations have they had in the past year?
  • How many certified farms remain certified despite having violations? Were the violations remedied?
  • Look into the ways farms have developed action plans to address environmental risks—they could differ based on farm.

Find sources:

Call the MAEAP office for general information: 517.373.9797

Locate a MAEAP Verifier in your region.Verifiers make sure farmers have used environmentally sound practices and meet requirements under the program.

View a list of local water stewardship technicians by Michigan township: This voluntary program has technicians who work on groundwater protection from nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides.

Find a county farm bureau office.

Call a Michigan Milk Producers Association office member. Click on the appropriate portion of the map.

For local community issues, call a conservation district office.They can provide sources from land managers and state, federal and local governments, conservation organizations, and Internet resources.

Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs)

The Michigan Agriculture Commission adopted these industry-accepted practices under the Right to Farm Act. Farmers who voluntarily follow them are protected from nuisance lawsuits under Michigan’s Right to Farm Act. The practices apply to irrigation, manure application on fields, pesticide use, nutrient management and most recently GAAMPs approved for on-site farm markets.

GAAMPs are also a controversial topic—farmers who follow these guidelines are exempt from being deemed a public or private nuisance and receive protection. They also may exempt themselves from tighter local regulations compared with state regulations. Proponents say it’s an easier, more friendly way for farmers to do business.

Stories from this:

  • Which GAAMPs are especially important or prominent in your region?
  • Talk with environmental groups and agricultural groups about specific GAAMPs. Are the voluntary programs working?
  • Are some GAAMPs more effective than others to improve agriculture? For the environment?
  • Examine your communities local regulations. Are they tighter than those required by the state?
  • Have farms in your community improved or finally been able to update their practices through protection offered by the program? Have others become lax due to the protection?

Find sources:

Tom Kalchik, Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources director: He is also a member of the GAAMP review committee for on-farm markets. 517-432-8752 kalchikt@msu.edu.

Lynn Henning, CAFO Water Sentinel, Michigan Sierra Club, lynn.henning@sierraclub.org, 517-605-7740

Michigan Agriculture Commission:Reviews each year and approves or rejects changes to GAAMPs suggested by review committees.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Development Environmental Stewardship Division:They oversee the Right to Farm Program, MAEAP and hold copies and regulations for GAAMPs.

MSU Extension Expert Search:Look for experts on agricultural topics while reporting. They are spread throughout the state and some have also given educational talks on specific GAAMP use, regulation and operations.

Wayne Whitman, Right to Farm Program manager, Michigan Department of Agriculture, whitmanw@michigan.gov.

Helpful websites:

A comprehensive Environmental Protection Agency brochure on agricultural runoff.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint Source Pollution from Agriculture contains documents on a variety of contributors in regards to agricultural runoff. Skip the technicalities and look for the gray sections in each chapter. These outline basic information about how nutrients, erosion, grazing and animal feeding operations can contribute to water pollution.