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MDARD awards $6.5 million to conservation districts for soil, water, wildlife protection

For immediate release: October 29, 2020
Media contact: Jessy Sielski, 517-331-1151
Program contact: John Switzer, 517-284-5606

LANSING, MI - The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Environmental Stewardship Division has awarded 95 grants totaling $6.5 million to 57 Michigan Conservation Districts for fiscal year 2021 to help implement voluntary conservation programs on private lands. Conservation districts are local government entities that work to enhance and conserve soil, water, wildlife, and other natural resources in their local communities. 

"Our partnership with conservation districts is absolutely essential for the success of MDARD's conservation programs," said MDARD Director Gary McDowell. "Their staff provide trusted boots on the ground, bringing their expertise and assistance to farmers and landowners in the farthest corners of Michigan's peninsulas. We're proud of the work we've done to protect Michigan's natural resources, and these grants will help ensure our resources are protected for future generations."

Grants issued to conservation districts are for the implementation of the following conservation programs:

Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) - 42 grants

MAEAP is a voluntary, proactive program designed by a coalition of farmers, agricultural commodity groups, state and federal agencies, conservation, and environmental groups to reduce farmers' legal and environmental risks. It teaches effective land stewardship practices that comply with state and federal regulations and shows farmers how to identify and prevent agricultural pollution risks on their farms. The conservation district technicians hired with these grants form the core of the program. They are trained to deliver MAEAP risk assessments, help farmers develop Farm Improvement Action Plans, and assist them step-by-step to earn MAEAP verification in four systems: Farmstead; Livestock; Cropping; and Forest, Wetland, and Habitat.

Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative (CTAI) - 24 grants

The CTAI program provides Michigan farmers and landowners with conservation planning and engineering assistance, allowing them easier access to federal cost-share dollars for implementing conservation practices. The program leverages funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to employ five engineers, nine soil conservationists, and 10 program assistants. These conservation district employees work with local NRCS offices to help farmers implement conservation practices that reduce environmental risks on their farms using USDA Farm Bill programs.

Forestry Assistance Program (FAP) - 19 grants

FAP provides technical assistance to private forestland owners. Conservation district foresters work one-on-one with private forestland owners and private sector foresters to promote sustainable management of the private forest resource. They provide no-cost site visits to private forestland owners in their service area. They also provide promotion and outreach by conducting workshops, hosting field days, and writing articles for local publications. These 19 foresters play a critical role in helping forestland owners enroll in the Qualified Forest Program, an MDARD program that encourages landowners to actively manage their privately owned forests for commercial harvest, wildlife habitat enhancement, and improvement of other non-forest resources. In exchange for managing their forests in a sustainable fashion, landowners receive a tax exemption on their forested property. 

Produce Safety Program - 6 grants

The Produce Safety Program is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, MDARD, Michigan State University Extension, and local conservation districts to help farms of all sizes voluntarily improve produce safety on the farm. 

The grants support six conservation district Produce Safety Technicians who deliver on-farm technical assistance using the Michigan Produce Safety Risk Assessment, education, and produce safety plan development. The technicians coordinate local, state, and federal agency resources to help farmers reduce produce safety risks and make progress toward compliance with state and federal regulations regarding produce safety.

Phosphorus Initiative - 4 grants

The Phosphorus Initiative is a cooperative undertaking between MDARD and USDA NRCS to accelerate and enhance the implementation of conservation practices aimed to reduce phosphorus and sediment in Michigan. Through this program, four conservation district technicians provide technical assistance to farmers and landowners through conservation planning, practice design, and inspection of installed practices using USDA Farm Bill programs. This effort helps strengthen, increase, and encourage voluntary participation of private landowners in implementing practices that reduce soil erosion, protect topsoil, and improve water quality.

For more information about MDARD's conservation programs and Michigan's conservation districts, visit

Related Links:

List of Awardees (PDF) 
MDARD Conservation Program 
Michigan Conservation Districts 
MDARD Produce Safety Program