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Mitchell Cat Creek Farms takes pride in MAEAP programming

By: Mitch Galloway, Farm News Media


Be positive.

Brandi Mitchell’s “Ted Lasso” outlook on life — and the ag industry — can be seen in the way she takes care of her land and cattle. The 140-year-old farm has added new fencing, planted the proper forages, and maintained grazing heights to be mindful of “what they leave behind,” according to Brandi.

And last December, Mitchell Cat Creek Farms became Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verified in livestock, cropping, and farmstead systems.

The Hersey operation is always looking to change up its techniques.

“The goal is to continuously improve our grazing beef operation and help heal the land,” the Osceola County Farm Bureau member told Michigan Farm News. “We're really big into regenerative agriculture and trying to make a positive difference in farming.”

Always be tinkering, Brandi said.

“We originally started with a 21-day rest period in between grazing events,” Brandi added. “One thing that I've learned is the rest period for the forage is very important. So, we have extended that period to a minimum of 45 days. It helps the plants become healthier over time. With the longer wait period between grazing events, you get more forage, the plants are healthier and much are more productive.”

Mitchell Cat Creek Farms is a continuation of her husband Jordan’s family farm, which started in 1944 as a Holstein dairy before transitioning in 1986 to beef cattle. They market grass-fed beef directly to consumers, with a focus on selling quarters, halves and wholes, along with selling feeder calves and seedstock.

Cattle breeds raised at the farm include a wide variety, such as registered Angus and Belted Galloway, and British White and Hereford crosses.

Recently, Brandi and Jordan adopted adaptive rotational grazing, where the farm adjusts their grazing plan as nature “dictates.” This means that the space animals can graze at any one time looks at the number of animals and the amount of forage available to determine when they move, time of year, and weather patterns, among other items.

Currently, the farm likes to move cattle once a day and has two herds moving in different paddocks.

“There are a lot of principles that we follow or try to integrate into our farming operation,” Brandi said. “You're not able to install everything you'd like to do at once, but I like to think of it as a growing process. You are changing, evolving. With us, that means minimal soil disturbance, keeping the live roots in the ground, using cattle to apply nutrients to the fields, and using our resource professionals to provide guidance on our next goals.”

Advice to farmers on the fence about MAEAP?

Brandi said to reach out to your local MAEAP technician, noting MAEAP is a great voluntary program for producers to learn about anything they may be able to alter on their farm to be more environmentally sustainable. The program is also a way for you to meet local resource professionals and learn more about what conservation initiatives or programs are available.

MAEAP technicians are housed in your local conservation districts and are at the hub of “conservation,” Brandi said.

“I think any size farm has the ability to adopt different practices,” Brandi added. “Not everything is going to be a perfect fit. We add in new practices all the time and see how they work in our system. Some ideas we keep, and some we decide we don’t like, but that is OK; it is how you learn.”

To meet MAEAP standards, Mitchell Cat Creek Farms built a concrete pad in the farm’s fueling area to make sure no gasoline or diesel fuel entered the soil where the tractor’s filled.

Another requirement is up-to-date water testing, which helps ensure the drinking water on the farm is safe.

“MAEAP technicians are well versed in assisting landowners with this testing,” she said.

Mitchell Cat Creek Farms now aims for MAEAP verification in the fourth system, Forest Wetland and Habitat, as it feels producers managing not only farm ground, but manage forests and grasslands.

Started in 1998, MAEAP is a voluntary program that helps farmers adopt cost-effective practices that reduce erosion and runoff into ponds, streams, and rivers. Farmers, as a result, comply with state and federal laws, said Laura Campbell, senior conservation and regulatory relations specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau.

“MAEAP is a confidential, whole-farm program that helps farmers reduce the risk of pollution, manage crop nutrients, and be good stewards of livestock and forest systems,” Campbell said.

“Working with local MAEAP technicians, farmers can work at their own pace, boost their eligibility for farm bill financial assistance, and make sure their farms meet the standards for Right to Farm practices and environmental regulations.”

This is the first in a series of MAEAP articles. Published July 12, 2023 by Michigan Farm News.