productive in an increasingly competitive global environment, but the lack of sufficient buffer strips almost ensures the soil, rich with spring fertilizers, will slide unencumbered into the drains and streams that feed Lake Macatawa.
It is hard to find the rainbow. Until I start looking.
In early May, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council $473,111 in Great Lakes Restoration monies to help fund the Macatawa Watershed Agricultural Water Quality Restoration. Supplemented with Project Clarity/Outdoor Discovery Center monies, the grant will focus on implementing best management practices (BMPs) to reduce soil and nutrient losses on fifteen farms used to grow primarily corn and soybeans. The funding spans a three-year time period and will include solutions such as planting crop covers (like oats and winter wheat) during the off-season so live roots help hold the soil; using gypsum as a fertilizer supplement to increase the water holding capacity of the soil; and implementing residue management practices to minimize soil disruption.
But what happens at the end of the three years? Will those farms and the neighboring farms participating in the educational portion of the grant, opt to implement those BMPs permanently? Voluntarily? Will they choose to absorb the incremental cost? And what happens if voluntary programs do not move the needle sufficiently to get our lake within legally acceptable “Total Maximum Daily Loads” of nutrients, the tool used to evaluate the quality of the lake’s water?
According to the Michigan Farm Bureau, in 2014 there were over 54,000 farms generating approximately $101 billion annually to the state’s economy. How will our local, state, and federal governments choose to balance the need to support long-term growth and development in agriculture with the responsibility under public trust doctrine to protect our water? Should taxpayer subsidies to farms be tied to implementing BMPs to ensure we have clean, safe water? Should there be new subsidies? If voluntary programs aren’t effective, should there be mandates?
I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that in my community, there are farmers working with leaders from Project Clarity/ODC, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resouces Institute, and Hope College, to find solutions for the lake on which we keep our boat and spend our summer evenings. And that has the potential to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
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