This article is sponsored by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.
In 2010, when Denny Person took over for his father in running the family dairy farm, he noticed how some things had changed, such as switching to beef cattle and growing beans, corn and wheat.
What had never changed was Person's love for the land.
That's what prompted him to join the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, a voluntary program that helps farmers in the state adopt cost-effective practices that reduce erosion and runoff into ponds, streams and rivers.
Person earned his first program recognition in cropping in 2014. Because he was already using many best practices, he found the process to be easier than expected.
Since then, Person has been recognized in farmstead, livestock, and forest, wetlands and habitat.
"Participating in MAEAP opens your eyes to areas where you can improve your farming practices," Person said. "For example, MAEAP showed me the value of having an emergency plan and sharing it with the local fire chief, just in case something should happen."
Person was quick to assure other farmers that MAEAP is not your run-of-the-mill government program.
"(The) technicians are there to help you," he said. "That's the benefit of working with local techs. When you know and trust the people you work with, it makes a huge difference."
Person urged all farmers to sign up and have an MAEAP technician come out for a visit.
"Maybe you'll decide not to participate or complete the process. That's OK," he said. "Meet with a MAEAP tech and get an idea of where you are. You might learn about something you can change on your farm for the better."
Let's rewind. What exactly is MAEAP?
The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program is a voluntary, confidential program that helps farmers and landowners reduce environmental pollution through education and technical assistance in applying the best management practices to their farms.
The four systems of MAEAP are cropping, farmstead, livestock, and forest, wetlands and habitat.
Those provide a robust, comprehensive environmental review of all aspects of the farm.
How did the program come to be?
MAEAP was first developed because of pressures to increase regulatory burden and to demonstrate to the public that agriculture was using sound production practices.
Farmers knew that much of what they were doing was right, but they needed a program to verify their good work. They also wanted to make sure they were keeping up with all regulatory requirements, Right to Farm Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices and best management practices.
MAEAP verified what farmers were already doing: taking care of the environment.
It was in 1998 that the coalition of farmers, commodity groups, state and federal agencies and conservation and environmental groups came together to provide a venue for farmers to become better educated about management options in order to help protect and enhance the quality of natural resources.
Partners from these groups are still involved in MAEAP's work, with more than 70 groups actively serving on the advisory council and spreading the word to farmers about the program.
MAEAP is not simply a government or regulatory program. Rather, it's a partnership effort unified for the protection of natural resources and advancement of positive community and neighbor relations.
What could the program do for me?
Through local conservation districts, MAEAP provides farmers with technical assistance, educational programs and demonstration projects to implement conservation practices and removal of potential contamination sources.
If you're a farmer involved in the program, you stay involved, as MAEAP has an 87% retention rate.
MAEAP provides a structure under which Michigan farmers can be assured they are effectively following all current Right to Farm Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices and are working to comply with state and federal environmental laws specific to each system of the program.
I'm not a farmer. Why do I care?
The program benefits others by helping protect the state's lakes, streams and aquifers, which are sources of drinking water for the people of Michigan.
Simply put, farmers' involvement in the program helps protect Michigan's waterways. If you care about our water, tell a farmer -- and that person just might make all the difference.