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Local farmers finding ways to make crops and environment 'greener'

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Some local farmers are taking advantage of a system that could help our environment and their wallets.

It's also helping manage more than a foot of rainfall from recent storms.

In a mostly dry summer like we've had, crops may not have gotten enough water, which hurts farmers' yield.

But some local farms are using a system that helps store extra water to use on those dryer days.

It's what's helped one Berrien County farmer grow more corn than ever before.

For Patrick Freehling, the kernel is what drives the cash.

He attributes this years growth in corn and soybeans to a 'level control system.'

It's connected directly to the drain tiles under his 200 acre farm.

"It basically allows us to store water and fertilizer in your field," Freehling said. "Particularly on a dry year, like 2012, it got really hot really early and all of the tiles had already drained all of the water away and there was nothing left. "With the system, you can actually hold back some back for later use for the crop as well."

And storing fertilizer means there's less harmful chemicals like nitrates running into streams and lakes.

"This year, we have almost 100 acres of corn to farm," Freehling said. "So if you save 40 pounds per acre, times 100 acres, obviously that's 2 tons of fertilizer that's not out in Lake Michigan."

Which helps farmers save money on one of their biggest expenses.

"Fertilizer is actually your number one variable," Freehling said. "Whether it goes up or down you still have to use the same amount to raise a crop."

While this system isn't the perfect fit for all farmers, it's another tool that can help keep our food and waterways a little greener.

"You're intentionally damaging nature by putting the fertilizer in there so if we can keep it out, in situations where that works, you're also protecting little organisms that live in the water that we swim in," Freehling said.

One drain costs between $500 and $1,000 to install.

It can control water and fertilizer up to 25 acres.

Freehling has installed hundreds of them across Indiana and Michigan.

A grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Berrien County Conservation District helped him pay for his.

Other Help For Farmers

The Berrien County Conservation District offers other programs to help farmers and our environment.

One of those programs is called the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, also known as "MAEAP."

It helps farms of all sizes become more environmentally friendly by better identifying and understanding environmental risks, while complying with state and federal regulations.

Grants are also available through the NRCS.

Farmers can work with this organization to determine their needs and apply for federal grants.

Officials say more farmers in our area are showing interest in building fueling facilities to protect the surface and groundwater from potential fuel spills.

Those traditionally cost between $7,000-$8,000, but grants could fund up to 75% of the cost.

Officials say there's also more homeowners interested in pollinator planting to help the bee population locally.

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