Editorials

Ag: State guidelines are strictly optional

STILL VOLUNTARY

State’s ag guidelines are optional

About 35 concerned residents attended the Seneca Township board of trustees meeting Monday to voice concerns about the expansion of the State Line Farms hog operation.

Rumors are circulating that construction just east of the intersection of M-156 and Ridgeville Road will double the size of the operation from the existing 4,000 hogs to 8,000.

Residents headed for the board meeting expecting that township officials would have some control over the situation.

Not so. Not even a building permit is needed for an agricultural facility. Township governments no longer have that option.

Residents figured there must at least be some control over where a facility is constructed. In this case, construction is underway close to the roads and to several residences.

Those protesting the expansion were closer to being right this time, but they were still in for a disappointment. Michigan’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs)—the state’s guideline to sound farming operations—are entirely voluntary. The Michigan Department of Agriculture urges farmers to follow the GAAMPs, but there’s no enforcement power involved.

There are a couple of advantages for farmers to adhere to the regulations. For one, it helps them operate as good neighbors in an area that includes not only farms but many nonfarm families who choose to live in agriculture country. Second, abiding by the GAAMPs can protect a farmer from nuisance litigation under the state’s Right to Farm Act.

As more and more people build in rural areas and encroach on traditional farming ground, farmers often need the protection of the law to carry on their work.

In the case of State Line Farms, owners have apparently decided not to seek Right to Farm protection through the GAAMPs, since suggested property line setbacks and distances from neighbors don’t match the guidelines—still, this is perfectly legal.

There could be problems for the farm down the road if neighbors choose to file lawsuits, and the risk of that seems to be growing. The Michigan DEQ has a growing interest in odor/air quality issues pertaining to large farms, and a farm without GAAMP protection is open to intervention by the DEQ’s air quality division.

But for now, there’s nothing that citizens can do beyond voicing concerns. If the proper storm water discharge permits were obtained from the DEQ before construction began, then it’s full speed ahead.

But you can bet the operation will come under close scrutiny. Volunteer water monitoring efforts have led to fines against large dairies in the area and many of the smaller farms in the county have received letters from the DEQ citing improper discharges.

As farms continue to grow and to become more numerous, so does the concern of people living in the area.


– DGG, Oct. 15, 2003