LANSING — Dan Busby was honored Aug. 23 as the first-ever recipient of Michigan Farm Bureau's new Ecology Champion Award. The honor recognizes individuals who help farmers protect the environment by addressing potential environmental risks.

As water stewardship program coordinator for the Grand Traverse Conservation District, Busby works with farmers in some of the state's most beautiful and environmentally sensitive landscapes, helping them balance the daily needs of their businesses with the long-term sanctity of the environmental resources they depend on. Leaders from both the Benzie-Manistee County Farm Bureau and Northwest Michigan Farm Bureau had glowing praise for Busby's work with area farmers.

Busby has played a vital role in several northwest Michigan farms earning verification in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), a program that helps farmers identify and minimize potential pollution sources on their farms. For 12 years he has helped scores of farmers in the region implement risk-reduction practices outlined by MAEAP, then helped them realize cost-effective, practical solutions.

"Dan has worked tirelessly to protect the pristine character of northwest lower Michigan," said Dean Johnson, president of the Northwest Michigan Farm Bureau (Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties). "It would be hard to find a farmer in Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Antrim or Benzie counties who hasn't been to a MAEAP meeting with Dan.

"Most of the larger, more influential growers have been MAEAP-verified, and many of the smaller growers have followed their lead," Johnson added. "Even on farms which haven't yet been verified, many have reduced their risks with secondary containment for hazardous materials, plugging floor drains, creating drift and emergency plans, and properly disposing of used pesticide containers."

As an educator he helps bridge farm and non-farm audiences, speaking to community groups and working with agriscience classes at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Career-Tech Center. He works as an advocate for responsible hunting and fishing recreation and teaches farmers about hazardous waste recycling.

"Dan doesn't just work with farmers, he connects with them, treating them with dignity and sharing a genuine interest in their lives—he forms relationships," Johnson said. "Without this connection, he wouldn't be as successful in educating growers, but it's through an authentic trust and mutual respect that so many practices have been implemented."

Busby's involvement in the region's agriculture community is so widespread it defies concise description. Few organizations with a connection to agriculture aren't familiar with his commitment to the industry.

Beyond his close ties with Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), Farm Bureau and farm commodity organizations, Busby is actively involved with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and MSUE's young leadership group, New FARM (Farmer Assistance and Resource Management). He presents stewardship information and showcases its accomplishments to both farmer groups and the general public, and maintains a high level of visibility at industry trade shows.

"Dan takes it upon himself to build his resource base. He is aware of legislative activities on local, state and national levels. His objective is to educate all on stewardship issues, provide creative ways to save growers' money, and make a positive impact," said Adam Putney, president of the Benzie-Manistee County Farm Bureau. "Dan is an advocate for not only stewardship but for agriculture as well. His personal and responsive approach commands attention and respect from those he connects with. He mentors through example, and is the resource for environmental stewardship in the region."

Busby is involved in several local horticulture societies, land conservancies and farmland preservation efforts, works with local natural resource and watershed groups, helped revamp a pesticide container recycling program and strove to expand its reach across the state.

Busby helps recognize MAEAP-verified farms by promoting their accomplishments to the greater community through local media, and helped execute a MAEAP-support resolution adopted by the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners—one of only a few in the state that formally recognizes the proactive actions conscientious farmers take to protect the environment.

"He cares about people as much as the environment and treats both with respect," wrote Suttons Bay farmers Jeff and Nita Send in their letter of recommendation.

The Ecology Champion Award is sponsored by MFB's Agricultural Ecology Department, which received 17 nominations from 21 county Farm Bureaus across the state. The presentation took place as part of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center's annual open house, near Traverse City.

"Farm Bureau members and their operations thrive with help from conservation professionals statewide," said Emily Ries, MFB agricultural ecology specialist. "The Ecology Champion Award provides a means of recognizing and showing our appreciation for these close friends of the farming community."