Is restructuring MAEAP delivery worth the benefits?

The Michigan Association of Conservation Districts says a plan to move technicians for the state’s voluntary environmental assurance program out of conservation districts removes a local presence for farmers.

President Jerry Miller tells Brownfield the program has been successful because of its confidential, third-party outreach outside of state government.

“Not only would the districts lose a valued person that works hand in hand with the district, but they would be state employees who would not be directly co-located or directly involved with the district.”

The latest budget proposal from Governor Whitmer includes downsizing from the nearly 40 current Michigan Agriculture Environmental Program (MAEAP) technicians to 24 who would become state employees.

Michigan Agriculture and Rural Development Director Tim Boring says the positions are experiencing turnover about every two years. During recent ag appropriations hearings, he testified about how the state can provide benefits and other resources that invest in retention.  

“A chief area of advancing economics on farms moving forward is going to be delivering on environmental outcomes and making sure that we’ve got highly trained, long-tenured, adequately compensated staff to be able to implement conservation across the state,” he says.”

Miller says several MAEAP advisory partner organizations are also opposed to the proposal. Another solution he says would be to increase wages provided in MAEAP grants to improve competitiveness.

“For farmers, we lose that local presence of having local people, local staff, working hand in hand with the state and with USDA,” he says.

MACD is surveying farmers to see how the move would impact their involvement in MAEAP. Find it HERE.

MAEAP is funded by fertilizer and pesticide fees collected by the state which in turn provides grants to conservation districts for MAEAP technicians to deliver the program at the local level.

Separately, Miller adds Michigan’s 2025 proposed budget also reduces operational funding for conservation districts by $1 million, further cutting back conservation work across the state.

Brownfield’s interview with Jerry Miller Part 1:

Brownfield’s interview with Jerry Miller Part 2:

  • As a former Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, I know the value of local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the critical role State funding has on their ability to solve natural resource problems. From water quality to wildlife to climate change, local Conservation Districts are vital allies in our National effort to improve the environment while ensuring our continued agricultural productivity.
    I know firsthand how States with strong financial support for their local Conservation Districts have benefited to a much greater degree from USDA conservation programs than other States. I know that Conservation District Directors and Staff are a vital local partner and “force multiplier” for NRCS, enabling much more work to be done than would otherwise be possible. From farmer contact to conservation planning, survey, design, and installation, Conservation Districts can greatly accelerate the on-the-ground implementation of private land conservation practices — if they have the financial resources they need.
    I humbly encourage Michigan’s State leaders to invest in the operations and work of Michigan’s 75 local Soil and Water Conservation Districts for the benefit of the State as well as the Nation.
    Dave White
    Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service

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