Gertie and Geert van den Goor
Transplants from the Netherlands, the Van den Goors milk 3,000 cows at their Goma Dairy and were named 2014 Dairy Farmers of the Year by Michigan State University.
In Michigan, we are blessed to have the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. This “MAEAP” program is a proactive program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risk.
Farms be verified for four systems: Farmstead, Cropping, Livestock and Forest, wetlands and habitats systems. We are verified for the Farmstead and Livestock systems.
Our farm has been through the whole process a few times. The first time was in 2006, and we are re-verified every three years. The program has three components: Education, risk-assessment, and on-farm verification.
The first part involves a day-long class at a local MAEAP meeting. For the second part, somebody from the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) comes out to the farm and together you look at all the things that are good and all the things that could use some improvement.
We sit down after the farm tour and come up with a schedule of implementations and changes we want or need to make. For example, we had to keep “clean” water clean and separate from dirty water. We installed gutters to collect the clean water and route it to the ditch and installed many tile-runs and pumps to collect runoff and route it to the manure pit.
When we felt comfortable that we were meeting all the criteria, somebody from MDA came out again to check every point on the plan that we put together a few months earlier. In our case, it turned out that we had to make a few minor changes. A few weeks later, MDA came out again and we were verified.
It was not too hard to get in compliance because most of the buildings were built in the last 15 years and were already built according to regulations. For farms that have older buildings, it can be very hard and very costly to come into compliance.
The big plus of the MAEAP program is that you end up with a nice sign that you can put next to the road. It lets your neighbors and others know that your farm is recognized as environmentally assured and that you work very hard every day to comply with state and federal environmental laws.
When we walk past the sign with people touring the farm, we also use it to start talking about how farmers in general and how we specifically take care of the environment. That might be the best benefit of all.