Senate approves pro-farmer, pro-jobs, pro-environment bills

LANSING – The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday to provide new incentives to encourage Michigan farmers to voluntarily participate in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, said Sen. John Proos.

“We must maintain a balance between supporting Michigan’s thriving agriculture industry and protecting our state’s natural resources,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph.  “I have long been a strong advocate of this program because it has proven successful with southwest Michigan farmers for many years.  These measures will encourage more farmers to become verified as good neighbors and strong environmental stewards – with a goal of verifying 80 percent of Michigan’s agricultural production by 2015.”

Proos voted for both Senate Bill 122 and 123 and was a key sponsor of legislation on the program during his tenure in the Michigan House of Representatives.

“I am thankful that the Senate passed this initiative today.  I believe that this is a proactive environmental program for the agricultural community and the citizens of our state,” said Tom Bodtke, a Van Buren County blueberry farmer.  “It is important that we all keep up with environmental issues that affect our farm families and our communities.”

If the Senate bills are signed into law, compliant farms would be protected from onerous civil fines and grant money would be made available to encourage participation and compliance in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program on the part of the state’s farmers.

“By making this an official state program, Michigan will provide farmers real, tangible benefits for their environmental efforts – such as providing certain legal protections,” Proos said.  “Protecting Michigan’s second-largest industry and the thousands of families who depend on it is important.  But we must also hold accountable those who purposely harm the environment.”

The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program is a voluntary, three-step process to educate farmers, perform on-site assessments of environmental risks and require third-party verifications that measures are in place to promote soil and water conservation on their farms.

“This will help our farmers understand the standards, save them time and money, and protect our natural resources for future generations,” said Proos.

SBs 122 and 123 have been sent to the House for further consideration.