Michigan: Killing More Small Farms

No more farm animals in residential neighborhoods, Michigan agriculture committee advises

Rosemary Parker | rparker3@mlive.com By Rosemary Parker | rparker3@mlive.com
Follow on Twitter
on January 20, 2014 at 5:56 AM, updated January 22, 2014 at 2:52 PM

MATTAWAN, MI — A Mattawan family’s farm may be safe, but changes under consideration by the Michigan Agriculture Commission could strip future small farmers of protection under Michigan’s Right to Farm act, according to an “action alert” sent Jan. 7 by the Michigan Small Farm Council.

Kelly VanderKley's farmKelly VanderKley’s turkeys walk around in their pen on Friday, July 26, 2013 at her small farm in Mattawan. File photo

The group’s mission “is to protect and extend the rights of urban, suburban, and rural small-scale farming operations throughout the state,” according to its website.

Those rights are threatened by proposed changes to Michigan’s Generally Acceptable Agricultural Practices (GAAMPs) currently under review by “first bring(ing) operations as small as a single animal under the control of the Site Selection GAAMPs,” the alert warns, “and then using (a new category) to exclude those operations from Right to Farm protection in residential areas.”

Kelly VanderKley and her husband, David Hunter, sought Right to Farm protection for their Antwerp Township hobby farm last year when neighbors complained about their animals and manure on the 4.8 acre of land. The farm underwent strict scrutiny by the state inspector to assure practices were in compliance with all applicable environmental requirements, VanderKley said, and were judged to be in compliance with current standards.

The Michigan Right to Farm Act provides nuisance protection for farms and farm operations which are in conformance with GAAMPs. Right to Farm was originally designed to protect commercial agriculture operations from being pushed out by changes in local zoning or land uses that conflict with common agriculture practices.  GAAMPs are reviewed annually by scientific committees of various experts, revised and updated as necessary, according to a recent news release from the Michigan Department of Agriculture announcing this year’s deadline for public comment is Wednesday, Jan. 22.

The proposed revisions worrying the Michigan Small Farm Council are tweaks to the GAAMPs for Site Selection and Odor Control for Livestock Production Facilities.

The Site Selection GAAMPs have never applied to most small farmers, the council alert explained,  because “Livestock Production Facilities” have been defined  as having 50 animal units or more, far greater than the number of animals held by most small farms in Michigan.

“In the proposed changes, MDARD defines a new term, Livestock Facility, as one with any number of animals – including a single animal,” a step, the alert warns, that “for the first time brings small farm operations under the control of the Site Selection GAAMPs. And then in a second step, MDARD creates a new class of sites – Category 4 sites – that are not ever acceptable sites for Livestock Facilities.”

Category 4 sites are defined as those exclusively zoned for residential use.

Those changes could be the kiss of death for enterprises such as backyard chicken flocks, or small acreage hobby farms such as VanderKley’s that keep a few animals on  suburban acreage, said Michigan Small Farm Council member Randy Buchler, of Shady Grove Farm in the Upper Peninsula community of Gwinn.

“It would exclude a whole bunch of people who are seeking Right to Farm protection… and strip the small farmers of their right to be protected by a state law.”

A circuit court judge ruled in Buchler’s favor when he cited Right to Farm to protect his own farm’s existence on residential property in Marquette County, the largest county in the state, he said.

“What they are trying to do is to take away Right to Farm protection from people trying to be self sufficient but not able to do agriculture on any level according their local zoning.

“The way it looks to us,” Buchler said, “this would allow local ordinances to trump state law.”

Mitigating conflict

“The GAAMPs look at nuisance risk and are intended to help mitigate conflict,” said Jennifer Holton, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“The committee recognizes that when you add in animals into those densely populated areas, it increases nuisance risk as well as the potential for conflict,” Holton said. “This proposal recognizes that there is a continuum – there are places ideally situated for livestock, and there are places in the state where livestock should not be located. ”

“The proposal also recognizes size and scale in a new way – there are places where large livestock facilities can be located – and the new category recognizing that small scale livestock (4-H, a couple of horses, etc.) can fit well in other places.”

Public Comment

People are invited to submit their thoughts on the site selection or any other GAAMPs by mail or email, or to attend the GAAMPs public input meeting at 9 a.m. Jan. 22, 2014, in Room A at the State Secondary Complex – General Office Building, 7150 Harris Drive, Dimondale.

Written comments may be submitted to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Environmental Stewardship Division, P.O. Box 30017, Lansing, MI 48909, postmarked no later than Jan. 22, 2014.

E-mail should be directed to WilcoxR2@michigan.gov, and must arrive by p.m. on Jan. 22, 2014.

MDARD will forward all comments received by the due date to the respective GAAMPs Task Force chairpersons for consideration. The GAAMPs Task Force Chairpersons then present proposed GAAMPs to the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development for final adoption.

Public comments are accepted and considered at scheduled commission meetings before final versions of the GAAMPs are approved.

For a copy of any of the GAAMPs, including the proposed revisions, click here  or contact MDARD’s Environmental Stewardship Division at 517-284-5619, or toll free at 877-632-1783.

Public comment will be taken on all eight GAAMPs, though there are proposed changes only in the GAAMPs for Manure Management and Utilization, Pesticide Utilization and Pest Control, the Care of Farm Animals, Site Selection and Odor Control for New and Expanding Livestock Production Facilities, and Irrigation Water Use.

Currently, there are no proposed changes in the GAAMPs for: Nutrient Utilization, Farm Markets, and Cranberry Production.