Agricultural Soil Erosion Reduction Project
Statewide, MI

Grantee: Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association
Basin Program Funds: $15,000
Non-federal Funds: $15,320
Project Duration: 06/1998 - 03/1999
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Michigan has close to one half of the 22 million acres of agricultural land in the Great Lakes basin and, as such, Michigan farmers are responsible for a significant portion of the agriculturally induced soil erosion and resulting water quality degradation within the basin. The challenge is to retain the valuable agricultural base and improve the environmental quality of the basin by empowering Michigan farmers to reduce nonpoint source pollution from agricultural erosion.

According to the Great Lakes Commission's Agricultural Profile of the Great Lakes Basin (1996) there are over 22 million acres of agricultural land in the Great Lakes basin. Michigan reported 10.7 million agricultural acres under the 1992 Census of Agriculture. It is therefore possible that Michigan farms contribute up to one half of the basin's agriculturally induced soil erosion. Agricultural erosion is significant because it carries associated nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as pesticides and herbicides, which negatively impact water quality. In addition to degrading water quality, soil erosion and sedimentation reduce agricultural productivity; degrade fish and wildlife habitat; limit water-based recreation; and damage water treatment and conveyance facilities.

Recently, the Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association (MASA) undertook a needs assessment which identified specific topic areas that MASA members believed required research and investigation. These included soil health/tilth, integrated crop management, biological pest controls, whole farm planning, rotations, alternative nitrogen sources, reduced herbicide systems, manure use and applications, alternative tillage systems and streambank protection. In an initially unrelated exercise, Dr. George Bird of Michigan State University (MSU) assembled a group of individuals to develop a series of training modules for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program. The training modules developed by the MSU work group closely paralleled the issues identified during the MASA exercise and, when coupled with the Great Lakes Basin Agricultural Profile, suggested an erosion control focal point. Soil erosion can be reduced through demonstration and education initiatives directed toward sustainable production.

MASA developed a demonstration/education delivery system including on-farm research, education and community-based dissemination. MASA chose eleven farms on which to conduct relevant research or demonstrate practices to enhance soil quality, reduce the need for chemical inputs or reduce sediment loading. Among these were trials to determine the benefits of various types of clover cover crops, discover the quality of compost made from municipal yard waste, including assessment of residual herbicides and insecticides, and determine the long-term effect of different fertilizer treatment on garden crops. Other projects included an attempt to provide all crop fertility requirements organically rather than using synthetic fertilizers and a project which strip cropped soybeans and corn to determine if mixing grass and legume cover improved fertility and soil biodiversity. Factors affecting soil quality were tested in several experiments including a bare ground test, ground cover in orchards, and the application of wood ash diverted from landfills. Soil health indicators in the form of soil nematodes and arthropods were also tested. Finally, two farms participated in a unique sediment and phosphorus reduction project.

The Kellogg Biological Station cosponsored three education meetings in different Michigan cities. These meetings emphasized promoting soil quality as a way to reduce soil erosion and contamination. In addition, MASA produced seven monthly newsletter inserts to the Farm and Country Journal which reaches 6,000 readers each month. An additional 20,000 copies of the July 1998 issue were distributed through the Ag Expo trade show at Michigan State University, making for a total readership of 62,000. MASA also mailed 11,000 farmers a summary of the 11 projects as a mechanism for promoting better soil quality.

Best management practices implemented as a result of this project include 400 acres of improved soil quality, 200 acres of conservation tillage, and 1740 acres of vegetative stabilization. Project personnel estimate that 90 tons of soil, 900 pounds of phosphorus and 180 pounds of nitrogen will be saved as a result


Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150. Join the Friends of the Great Lakes GLIN Partner