Farm Food Facts

Joe Kelpinski, Scott Lonier, Delicious Foods

July 15, 2019 Episode 33
Farm Food Facts
Joe Kelpinski, Scott Lonier, Delicious Foods
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Joe Kelpinski, Scott Lonier, Delicious Foods
Jul 15, 2019 Episode 33
USFRA, Joe Kelpinski, Scott Lonier, Phil Lempert
Show Notes Transcript

This weeks Thought Leader is Joe Kelpinski, Program Manager at Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP)

The stories you need to know
1. The most Delicious Foods will Fall Victim to Climate Change. 
2. Conservationists advise us to Make Small Shifts over Time.

Our farmer interview is with Scott Lonier, MAEAP verified farmer in the Farmstead and Cropping Systems.

Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter.
Phil Lempert:
0:10
Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts for Wednesday, July 17th, 2019. I'm Phil Lempert, your host. The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program is an innovative, proactive program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agriculture pollution risks. We're going to talk with a representative of the program and with Scott Lonier, participating farmer. First up is Joe Kelpinski, who's the program manager for Michigan Agriculture Environmental Insurance Program of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. His responsibilities in the program include managing the day to day operations, overseeing grants with local conservation districts, working with partners to continue to improve, promote and evaluate the program, and working with communication and technical committees within the program to address issues and review standards within their systems. Joe, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Joe Kelpinski:
1:08
Thank you for having me, Phil.
Phil Lempert:
1:09
So, tell us about the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. What are its goals and objectives?
Joe Kelpinski:
1:16
Well, the program started as an idea back in the late nineties, 1998 to be exact. At the time in Michigan, our farmers were under intense pressure, from environmental groups, from the general public that felt we were not doing an effective job of taking care of and being good stewards of the environment. Michigan had a fairly robust Right to Farm law that protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits. But, the reality of that is that that's a complaint-driven system. And so, unless the farmer had a complaint, they really didn't know that they were following all the recommended practices. And so, our agricultural industries wanted to put together a program that basically demonstrated to the public that the farmers in the state of Michigan were doing a good job in protecting the environment, that they were following the laws and regulations, that they were good stewards of the land.
Joe Kelpinski:
2:11
And out of that partnership of farmers and commodity groups and organizations and the alphabet agencies at the state level as well as Michigan State University, the MAEAP program was born. It was designed, its goal was to provide a proactive, voluntary, environmental program that helps farmers meet or exceed state and federal laws in a cost effective method or manner that maintains their economic livelihood. We wanted them to be able to address those laws and regulations, and yet they've gotta be able to farm and stay in business, otherwise, they're gone. And what does it matter at that point? So, that was the original goal of the program and the objectives were basically to educate producers, to provide technical assistance in the form of grants through conservation districts to actually put boots on the ground to work one-on-one, directly with farmers and ultimately provide continuous improvement on farm with respect to reducing environmental impacts from agriculture.
Phil Lempert:
3:16
So, what do you think are the biggest challenges? Both for the farmer and for the rest of the planet to environmental stewardship?
Joe Kelpinski:
3:24
Currently, on the ag side right now, Phil, I would say the biggest thing is just farm sector profitability. I know you've had interactions with agriculture, so you understand it fairly well. But we are struggling in agriculture right now and in pretty much all the sectors from a profitability standpoint. When farmers aren't making any money or are in some sectors actually losing money and needing equity to stay afloat and to keep operating, there isn't money to make changes on the farm, things that will have a positive impact on the environment, at that point. Farms are just struggling to stay in business. And so the profitability standpoint is a big one.
Joe Kelpinski:
4:09
I think we have a lot of variability between farms. When I talked in the non-farming public about agriculture and they say, well, why don't you just regulate it? Why don't you make them do this? I try and come from the standpoint of educating them that farms, from one farm to the next, none of them are the same. This is not two automobile manufacturing plants side by side where you can put regulations on them and their practices and their production methods are pretty much identical. So, the things you implement are identical. The farms are so different, whether it's the production types of systems, the crops they grow, the tillage systems they use, their fertility and nutrient plans and management, they vary so much that things that you may require a farm to do may be super effective on one farm and absolutely have the opposite effect on the other farm and actually make things worse than they were.
Joe Kelpinski:
5:06
So, you know, that variability kind of makes it more difficult. You have to have something that allows you to address farms on an individual basis. I think there's very much a disconnect as a challenge between the public and farms and farmers today. We've known that has grown over the years. But there is certainly a large disconnect. People see, for example, a classic story that was told to me literally last week was a friend of mine who works peripherally in agriculture, had a meeting with some corporate executives and they were talking about agriculture and how all farms were corporate farms. And they base that on driving by fields and seeing things like, you know, Dekalb or Monsanto products, which were just things the farmer was advertising that they were using. Maybe they were test plots. But based on that observation, they felt that all farms were corporate owned.
Joe Kelpinski:
6:08
And so, the public doesn't understand that aspect of it. They don't understand what we do in agriculture, why we do it, that we're not out there spraying, or over-fertilizing just because we want too. We're out there actually trying to micromanage all of our inputs strictly to maintain profitability. I saw had another meme that said a farmer works 400 hours a month for no pay to feed a public that thinks he's trying to kill them. And that's what we get is as we talk about, you know, the whole GMO thing.
Phil Lempert:
6:45
Yeah, how do we change this? How do we change the dialogue, and the understanding of the public?
Joe Kelpinski:
6:53
That's the million dollar question. I've spent really my entire career, you know, 30 plus years working in adult education, working to try and educate farmers and the public on things. That can only be done between the kind of a continuous dialogue. But the vehicle that you use to bring that dialogue, I don't have a good answer on how we make that happen. It's not like we - for example, in the MAEAP program, we're trying to make the public understand the value of that sign, what farmers have done to get that sign out front of their farm. And we've really struggled with it because, what aspect or what portion of the public do you want to approach first? You go for decision makers, you know, the moms in the grocery store, the elected officials. Do you go for the young folks that are probably, compared to some of us older folks, they grew up in a greener environment. They grew up more environmentally conscious. Do we target them first? I don't know. There's so many different, diverse groups and we have limited funds. I honestly can't give you a good answer on what's the best vehicle to do that. I think it's situationally specific. And I think it's specific to the message you're trying to set. And
Phil Lempert:
8:15
And, one good thing is to have more people listen to Farm, Food, Facts, to hear right from farmers, right from thought leaders like yourself and get that message out there. Hopefully loud and clear. Joe, thanks so much for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts.
Joe Kelpinski:
8:30
Thank you for having me.
Phil Lempert:
8:38
And now, for the news. The most delicious foods will fall victim to climate change. The biggest way that most folks here on planet Earth will experience climate change is through its impact on food. We've heard a lot about forest fires and mega droughts and these types of issues that come with climate, but Jerry Hatfield, a USDA scientist, has made the realization that the broadest disruption caused by climate change will be in food systems. In the U.S., we import more than half of our fruit, so we're heavily reliant on other regions of the world to produce the food we love. For example, coffee and chocolate. The corn and soy farmers in the Midwest are dealing with flood damage to their fields, and in Italy, there was an olive oil shortage due to extreme weather. So, people are beginning to tune in as we realize that strawberries and Chardonnay are on the line. Everything is at risk, but the good food the most at risk, the high nutrient delicious foods? This is why it's more important than ever to be aware of the impending effects of climate change and to actively become stewards of the land, protecting our natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. What grocers need to know is that every grocer needs to make their commitment and join We Are All In.
Phil Lempert:
9:57
And on that note, here's how farmers can help protect their land and soil. Conservationists advise us to make small shifts over time. Many farmers are moving towards new conservation practices to maintain the health of their soil, and some may require more planning. This is why making small shifts over time may be the best practice. One of the more popular conservation tactics is making the switch from conventional tillage to no-till farming, and definitely something to prepare for, as it could affect a farmer's soil in the first couple of years. When done too abruptly, it's a bit like biologic shock, which can impair the nutrient system. Additionally, switching from till to no-till during a corn year for example, can cause some yield drag unless we keep nutrient cycling in mind and offer the corn a little extra nutrition to get it over that transition hump. The ideal would be switching to no-till during a soybean year, as soybeans tend to be more resilient and typically won't experienced significant yield loss or following the corn crop with a cover crop and then a first year of no-till soybeans, following with another cover crop before the first year of no-till corn. The introduction of cover crops, in particular cereal rye, is also becoming a popular practice due to its soil benefits. What grocers need to know is that switching from conventional tillage to no-till farming takes planning. It could affect a farmer's soil in the first year or two, which could affect yield and supply to your stores. Just one more reason to work closely and communicate with your farmer suppliers.
Phil Lempert:
11:41
Today we're going to talk to a farmer. We're going to talk to Scott Lonier who, with his brother Steve, are fifth-generation co-owners of the family's farm located in Lansing, just minutes away from the state capitol. They own and operate 4,200 acres in two counties and they grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. Scott, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Scott Lonier:
12:05
My pleasure.
Phil Lempert:
12:06
So, I guess where I want to start is where I start with most farmers. The past year, 18 months has really been difficult because of weather conditions and the climate. How are you dealing with them and what have been some of your issues?
Scott Lonier:
12:22
Well, the weather is always an issue in our business and agriculture, we don't determine our outcomes at the end of the year. That's all determined by Mother Nature, by the weather that we see with our rain, with our temperature, our heat that we have. She decides how much we're going to produce. And then the Chicago Board of Trade is the one that sets the price for us. So unlike most, I like to think of agriculture as manufacturing because we are manufacturing food and fuel for the world. So, most other manufacturers, whether it be automotive or anything else, they already know as they're coming down the line exactly what profit they're going to make on each vehicle as it comes down there. In agriculture, we don't know our outcomes, it's completely undetermined as we start and we're kind of high risk gamblers and take the good with the bad.
Phil Lempert:
13:08
So Scott, your family has always been proactive when it comes to the environment and sustainability on the farm. What have you been doing and what have you noticed to be some of the changes?
Scott Lonier:
13:20
So, some of the major changes are our farm became Farmstead of the Year. Our family started it in 1876. And when it was started, the location of where it was was conducive because we weren't far from the local river. But, there was also an open drainage ditch that ran right down to the river that drained, because we're pretty rolling ground. So, there was an open ditch that drained right down through there. And when the family was homesteaded, and we used to have cows and as everybody had livestock back then, and they picked this location because they had an access for water. So, the cows always had water. Whenever they were thirsty, we'd walk down to the stream, which was right down the half-mile from the river where the ditch jumped into.
Scott Lonier:
14:01
So, over the years we realized that it wasn't good to have your cows going down drinking out of that open ditch because when they were drinking, they were also doing other things there that was polluting the river. So, it started probably 50 years ago when we fenced in the pasture and fenced off both sides of the open ditch and put in a watering system out there. So, they had different water source and trying to keep the pollutants, the extra excrement and urine from running down in there as much as we could. So, it started with that and then just slowly progressed. We had a big urban sprawl in our area back in the mid- to late-nineties. It just became populated with the houses and everybody had underground fuel tanks back then and we were one of the first ones to dig our fuel things up and at least put them on top of the ground. That way we knew that if there was a leak, we could know that it was leaking and stuff, not finding out second hand. But then we realized that the open ditch is still downhill from where the fuel tanks is. And that was kind of the start of the whole thing is when we realized the environmental impact that we could directly have with a point-source pollution on our farm because we were so close to a major tributary. So, from then, we just kept doing a little bit here and there, implementing different things to control that. And then, like I said, we were rolling ground too, so erosion has been an issue for us and we've got miles and miles of grass waterways in our fields to keep the erosion and keep all the topsoil in place and give a place for the water to run down to to get down to the open ditch without eroding and leaving a bunch of gullies in our fields.
Phil Lempert:
15:39
So, for about a decade you've been MAEAP certified. What does that mean? And you say that other farmers should consider doing the same, why?
Scott Lonier:
15:50
So, the acronym MAEAP stands for Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program. And what that is, is that kind of piggy-backs on, first of all in legislature there's a thing called GAMPs, which is generally accepted management practices, which is the best practices which are the just generic standards by which all farms are set to operate by. If you don't abide by those generally accepted management practices, you could be out of compliance and open to lawsuits for different things. It could be for erosion, it could be for contamination, it could be for all these other things. And 99.9% of the farmers are all in compliance with the GAMPS. But with the verification - the MAEAP verification - what that does in the state of Michigan, we're pretty unique and we're very fortunate to have that. What that does, it allows our Department of Agriculture to send somebody out and they're a third-party verifier, and they have a little bit stricter criteria versus what the generally accepted practices are. You've got a few more things that you've got to meet in order to become certified for MAEAP. And there's multiple certifications you can have, whether it be just your farmstead, it could be your cropping, it could be your livestock, it could be your woodland, your habitat, it can be greenhouse nursery. And so, we have it - we don't have livestock we have just our farmstead and our cropping systems. But basically, what that is, is we have somebody from the Michigan Department of Agriculture comes out here and goes through a checklist and puts boots on our ground and walks around and just double checks and verifies that, yes, you guys are going above and beyond all these standards which are set by the legislature in the generally accepted management practices.
Scott Lonier:
17:46
And it's a third party verification that's done the state. What it does is, it does afford us a little bit of extra protection should something happen. Being MAEAP verified, say we have something happens even though all our fertilizer and our pesticide is all double-walled, contained, it's got secondary containment on it. But if something happens to a truck that leaks on the road or something unforeseen happens like that, it helps us out in sofar as give us support to get a clean-up crew there right away and to help cover some of, not the cost for doing it, but it takes away your liability because we've had all our stuff certified by somebody else saying that, hey, you guys are doing the right thing. You're doing all you can do unless there's an unforeseen event.
Phil Lempert:
18:42
Scott, your family farm has been around, as you said, since 1876. Fifth-generation, is six generation on the way?
Scott Lonier:
18:50
Yeah. My nephew, my brother Steve's oldest son is 27. He works on the farm right now. He's full time on the farm, so it's the three of us. But we're full time on the farm, our father has become a snowbird. He enjoys the warm weather and he goes out to Arizona from usually about the second frost is when we say - when everybody asks, "When does he leave?" we say whenever the second frost happens. So, usually it's sometime in early October and then he comes back sometime in the middle of April and still comes down to the farm to boss everybody around all summer long
Phil Lempert:
19:27
As he should. Scott, thanks so much for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts today.
Scott Lonier:
19:32
My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
Phil Lempert:
19:35
For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab, and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.
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