Blueberry Growers Concerned About EPA Wetland Regulation Demands

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WEST MICHIGAN (March 18, 2014) — The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to tighten wetland regulations in Michigan, and that has blueberry growers concerned.

Michigan is one of the nation’s leading blueberry producers, and cultivates 100 million pounds each year, according to MSU Extension.

The crop is grown on wetlands, according to farmer Larry Bodtke. Michigan blueberries are grown on hydric soil.

“The blueberries are a significant portion of our business, probably 80 percent,” Bodtke said.

Blueberries are Bodtke’s bread and butter. Michigan is one of two states that has delegated authority to handle wetlands under its own rules following the Clean Water Act.

But in recent years, the EPA has been looking to make changes.

Bodtke is concerned the stiffer regulations could stop him from irrigating, or slightly draining the fields as needed. He said it could be “a significant hardship on the blueberry industry.”

Eliminating planting completely is an even bigger concern.

“Their best answer is, don’t do anything in a wetland, so we’re trying to work with them and work with the DEQ and the state of Michigan to come up with specific rules that will still allow us to plant and still maintain it as a wetland,” Bodtke said.

Here’s the bottom line for the Department of Environmental Quality.

The DEQ is proposing a “general permit process” for blueberry growers.  A few of the rules include:

  • No converting of the wetland
  • Minimal drainage
  • Excavated soil must be reused to backfill trenches

A hearing has taken place, and the proposal awaits EPA approval.

“We really don’t expect to hear anything concrete for probably another couple months,” Bodtke said. “We’ve not been restricted by DEQ or EPA for planting blueberries at any time prior to this.”

As the state, the EPA and growers continue to talk this out, farmers hope a compromise can be reached that won’t stifle their production.

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