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Midwest agricultural retailers have a guardian angel. Not that they may see it as such, but the Mid America Crop Protection Association's (MACPA) Water Guardian Program helps protect and promote retailer stewardship efforts.

"The Water Guardian Award recognizes people and agribusinesses that project a positive image by promoting environmental stewardship of the industry, concern about water quality and protection of the environment. Winners voluntarily promote stewardship, not just talk about it," says Bonnie McCarvel, MACPA executive director, St. Louis. The award has been given annually since 1991. For more than 30 years, MACPA has provided a framework for those involved in the crop protection industry in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin to discuss and reach a consensus on such issues.

Seven recipients in seven Midwest states were named water guardians for 1999-2000, including Craig Myron, owner and president of Vermillion Fertilizer Company, Vermillion, S.D., which opened in 1969 as a dry fertilizer business.

The facility is located in an area bordered by the Vermillion, Missouri, Big Sioux and James Rivers and is as close as 500 feet to one river on the south side. As such, the facility was one of the first in the region to put in dikes and loading pads and to contain materials.

Today, Vermillion Fertilizer Company also includes facilities at Elk Point and Meckling, S.D., and performs custom spraying and application of crop protection products across the southeast corner of the state. Myron was the second retailer in South Dakota to offer site-specific chemical application and promote site-specific input applications to protect groundwater in the river basin.

"In this area, especially with all of the rivers, it is important to make sure that we do not over-apply chemicals and that we make sound recommendations to protect the water," Myron says.

"We are watched pretty closely in the community since we have a fertilizer and chemical business, so we try to do a good job," he says. "Only two percent of the population farms and the other 98 percent don't understand what farmers do. We try and help them understand that."

Such community outreach has led to improved public relations for Myron and other award-winning retailers around the country. "Neighbors of these winners are taking note that their local co-ops and retailers are making a conscious effort to care for the air, land and water," says MACPA's McCarvel.

For example, Nelson Dinsmore, Butterfield & Associates Grain, Inc., Meadville, Mo., was named a Water Guardian Award winner because he invites local fire protection personnel into their facility for safety training and instruction on handling emergency response. Dinsmore also meets with local Cub Scout dens to demonstrate how farmers and agricultural retailers can coexist with wildlife.

Other winners nominated for their dedication to stewardship included Steve Wattnem, Illini FS, Inc., Urbana, Ill.; Jim Penney, general manager, and Boyd Brodie, agronomy manager, for Heart of Iowa Cooperative, Roland, Iowa; Richard Fisher, general manager, Farmers Cooperative Union, Sterling, Kan.; Hank Storjohann, Southern Valley Cooperative, Mankato, Minn.; and Scott Merritt, executive director, Nebraska Corn Growers Association.

State crop protection associations select winners using guidelines supplied by MACPA. Each association uses its own selection process to submit a nomination. Once winners are confirmed, they are recognized at their respective annual state association meetings with the exception of Kansas. In that state, the winner is acknowledged during an annual legislative day so that ag retailers may parade their stewardship efforts in front of lawmakers.

"This program has really raised awareness of the value of environmental stewardship both with peers and other agribusinesses and within the community. McCarvel says, "This is an opportunity for each company to showcase its facility, commitment to customer service and community image." AM


Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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