The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) is a voluntary verification program that helps farmers reduce environmental impacts from their operations by providing technical assistance for the design and implementation of conservation plans.
MAEAP was first developed in 1998 by a coalition of farmers, commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups. It seeks to provide a venue for farmers to become better educated about conservation-oriented management practices. In 2011, legislation was passed establishing MAEAP in law. MAEAP is overseen by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) who is responsible for establishing grants for technical assistance, educational programs, demonstration projects to implement conservation practices, and removal of potential contamination sources. Most MAEAP activities are carried out by county conservation districts through grants provided by MDARD.
Farmers enrolled in MAEAP participate in a three-phased process. First, they attend an educational meeting to learn more about the program. Second, the farmer works with their local conservation district to assess the specific risks for environmental impacts on their land. This assessment is divided into four components to address different common areas of risk. The farmstead assessment includes a review of chemical, fuel and pesticide storage, and wells. The cropping assessment reviews pesticide and nutrient application practices, erosion control, and record keeping. The livestock assessment addresses practices related to livestock production. The forest, wetlands and habitat system assessment involves reviewing plans created for managed lands to ensure that they are being properly implemented. Once the four components of the assessment are complete, the farmer develops and implements a conservation plan designed to address the previously-identified risks. The third and final step is for a MDARD representative to inspect the completed project to ensure that it meets applicable criteria, and that all associated records and management strategies are in place.
Once these three phases are complete, a farm becomes MAEAP verified. This verification remains valid for five years, at which time it can be renewed. Enrollees receive a “MAEAP Verified” sign that they can display at their farm, as well as a certificate signed by the director of MDARD. There are certainty benefits enabled through the MAEAP legislation that growers receive as well. In addition to improving field-level operations and reducing nutrient impacts to drinking water, the MAEAP program stresses the opportunity to demonstrate leadership with the local community and business partners as another significant benefit of program enrollment.