Agriculturally speaking… MAEAP-verified hops farm shows environmental commitment

By Jamie Clover Adams, director, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development​

Gov Snyder and MDARD Director Clover Adams visit Top Hops Farms

Recently, I had the opportunity to tour Top Hops Farm, a family-owned 10.5 acre commercial hopyard in Goodrich.  Top Hops Farm became verified in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s Farmstead and Cropping systems in 2013, and have their signs proudly displayed.  Top Hops has seven varieties of hops including Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Cashmere, Mt. Rainier, Columbia, and Tahoma.  The farm is expanding this year with an additional six acres and is the largest grower and processor in Southeast Michigan growing over 10,000 plants.  Top Hops supplies over 30 breweries with hops locally.  Not only does the farm have the philosophy of using local talent and local procurement whenever possible, they continue to demonstrate their environmental commitment through their participation in MAEAP.

As the Great Lakes State with abundant land and water resources, environmental stewardship is important not only to Top Hops Farm, but to Michigan’s food and agriculture industry as a whole.  MAEAP provides the avenue for Michigan farms to identify possible environmental risks and guidance on changes they can implement to reduce those risks. 

MAEAP is a voluntary and proactive program started by farmers, commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups who wanted to provide a comprehensive way for farmers of all types to become better educated in management practices reducing environmental risks.

Top Hops Farm is verified in two of the four MAEAP systems:  Farmstead and Cropping.  The Farmstead System is open to all farms regardless of size or commodity and the Cropping System is more specific to crop operations including field crops, fruit orchards, greenhouses, and ornamental trees.  MAEAP also offers a Livestock Verification covering all livestock operations from llamas to lambs and everything in between.  The Forest, Wetlands, and Habitat System provides the opportunity for landowners with property not under traditional agriculture production to have their land environmentally assured as well.  

Top Hops Farm decided to start their verification process after hearing about the success that other farmers had with MAEAP.  Keeping environmental stewardship as a top priority, and being relatively new to farming at the time, MAEAP provided a way for them to learn about and implement practices that would optimize their conservation and efficiency goals.  

It took the farm about six months to complete the Farmstead Verification, and about nine months to complete the Cropping Verification a few years later.  Throughout the verification process, farmers have access to assistance from technicians in their local conservations districts as well as the large network of industry partners that support the program. 

To become environmentally assured, farmers must complete three phases: education, farm-specific risk assessment and practice implementation, and on-farm verification ensuring the farmers have all the proper practices in place to be considered environmentally sound.  Upon completion, the farm receives a sign to install on their property so others know they are doing their part to protect the natural resources in their community.  
“[MAEAP verification] projects a good image to our community and customers,” said Mark Trowbridge, who operates Top Hops Farm with son Sean Trowbridge.  

The positive environmental message that MAEAP sends to the public is a major motivator for many farms like Top Hops to become verified.  It’s important for their neighbors and clients to be aware of the work and time they invest into decreasing their farm’s environmental risks.  MAEAP helps farmers take care of their land in cost effective ways while ensuring they are still able to make a living off of their land.  Trowbridge experienced this throughout his verification process as well.  “We were able to learn some things that make us more efficient in our practices,” said Trowbridge.

To date, more than 3,300 MAEAP verifications have been issued across the state on farms of all sizes and types since 2002.  The growth in the program’s participation proves Michigan farmers prioritize the state’s abundant natural resources and the well-being of the communities they are involved in.  Top Hops Farm’s unique story and environmental commitment is a great representation of Michigan’s diverse and vibrant food and agriculture industry.