Michigan farmers can get financial nudge to cut chemicals on crops

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Many Michigan farmers seem likely to adopt farming standards that encourage them to decrease fertilizer and pesticides use.
They are being motivated by a new $373,000 grant awarded to the American Farmland Trust to help reduce the financial risks for farmers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio who are interested in reducing fertilizer and chemical use on their lands.
The grant will support a multi-state project that improves Great Lakes water quality by reducing fertilizer and chemical application to agricultural lands within the basin.
“Most farmers today are open to new ideas. If it is proven to them that using less chemicals will do the job, then they most likely adopt the standards,” said Bruce Noll, president of the Montcalm Farm Bureau.
The standards are basically the best management practices that reduce the environmental risk.
Michigan Department of Agriculture has implemented the Field-A-Syst program which helps farmers develop a system that will reduce the use of pesticides and nitrogen on their crops. The program also helps to reduce the risk of the chemicals polluting the Great Lakes.
Jack Knorek, program manager at the Michigan Department of Agriculture, said the program has been implemented at 25 percent of Michigan farms.
“Any financial inducement will increase the adoption rate of the programs,” he said.
AFT’s Agricultural Conservation Innovation Center in Charleston, S.C., will work with a team of insurers, farm operators, farm advisers and state and federal agencies to develop insurance policies that protect farmers against financial losses associated with lower crop yields due to reduced fertilizer and chemical inputs.
“We don’t blame farmers for using too much chemicals on their crops,” said Jim Cubie, director of ACIC. “It’s like when a homeowner puts that extra cup of fertilizer on their grass — just in case. They are just trying to insure their maximum yield.”
Researchers have determined the minimum usage necessary to yield the best crops and then turn that information over the Department of Agriculture, which then develops programs like the “A-Syst” package, which includes various systems to improve environmental quality.
Farmers do not have to follow the systems and many don’t because of the fear of not producing. The grant will be the safety net for the farmers who adopt these systems.
“AFT is helping the states attach a guarantee to the advice system,” Cubie said.
Donald Smucker, Montcalm County extension director said more farmers are contacting MSU Extension for more information about the best management practices and systems that promote environmental stewardship.
“We educate farmers on how to improve environmental quality and how to implement the best management practices,” he said. “Many farmers have been taking a look at how adopting these systems will benefit their business.”
Governor John Engler is excited about the grant and how it will benefit Michigan “This is another great development in Michigan’s continued efforts to preserve the state’s natural resources as well as its rich agricultural heritage,” Engler said.
“Michigan remains committed to assisting programs that work to support and enhance agricultural production with the state without compromising the water quality of our Great Lakes.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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