Nickelsons’ tree farm earns honor as conservation district’s 100th environmentally verified farm.

December 21, 2017

Ben Nickelson (left) and father Jim Nickelson proudly display their MAEAP verification sign at their nursery on Hansen Road in Amber Township.

Nickelsons’ tree farm earns honor as conservation district’s 100th environmentally verified farm.

AMBER TOWNSHIP — Needlefast Evergreens, 4075 W. Hansen Road, recently helped the Mason-Lake Conservation District reach a new milestone; the 100th verification for Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) in Mason, Lake and Manistee counties.

The local tree seedling nursery, also operating Jim Nickelson’s Christmas Trees, is one of 15 farms that opted to review their efforts to protect groundwater, rivers, lakes and wetlands in 2017. MAEAP is a voluntary, confidential program offered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and carried out by local conservation districts.

By being MAEAP farmstead verified, farmers are able to promote that they are keeping water resources clean by using best practices developed by Michigan State University, the United States Department of Agriculture and MDARD’s Environmental Stewardship Division.

There are five potential avenues for participating landowners to become verified:

The farmstead system evaluates how fuel, fertilizers, pesticides and manure are handled and stored.

The cropping system ensures that fertilizer, pesticides and manure applied to crops are used sustainably through the use of soil testing, record keeping, and protecting pollinators.

The livestock system helps herd and flock managers preserve water resources around the farm, as well as control odor and manage manure and animal mortalities carefully.

Commercial greenhouses are eligible to get verified under the greenhouse system, which recommends additional steps for the control of stormwater runoff around the farm.

Forest, wetland and habitat system is a verification that can be pursued by non-farmers who have woodlots, water and wildlife resources on their property that they maintain long-term through a land management plan written by a professional forester or ecologist.

“It’s great that Needlefast Evergreens is taking further steps to do the right thing on their farm to protect the environment,” Mason-Lake Conservation District MAEAP technician Jordan DeVries said.

To help more farmers become MAEAP Verified, the Mason-Lake Conservation District received a new cost share grant that will pay farmers up to $300 for items like fuel pads; improved pesticide storage and mixing areas; and stormwater runoff management on the farm.

Ben Nickelson recently started a video series on Needlefast Evergreen’s Facebook page showcasing the nursery’s use of many soil and water conservation practices on more than 350 acres of trees in central Mason County.

“Most of the farmers I work with are already doing 90% of the things we’re asking them to do when it comes to striking a balance between producing healthy crops and maintaining clean water for our community,” DeVries said. “MAEAP assessments help them find those few things they didn’t realize they could improve upon.”  

Farmers participating in MAEAP typically work with their local MAEAP technician, Michigan State University Extension educators and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) professionals to implement these extra steps needed for verification. With the help of the MAEAP funding pool through NRCS, Needlefast’s tractors are fueled on a concrete pad. Through this opportunity, a purpose-built chemical building houses the nursery’s pesticides and provides an area for them to be safely mixed into sprayer equipment.

Jim Nickelson spoke to the family aspect of farm management: “With Ben coming back to transition into the business, it helped us decide to go through with MAEAP and apply for the chemical building. The cost would not have worked out if it were just me doing this for a few more years.”

A MAEAP Education Day for farmers and the community is planned for Thursday, Jan. 25 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Mason County Reformed Church, 45 S. Amber Rd. in Amber Township. For information about MAEAP in our area, call (231) 757-3707 or visit


Caption for attached photo: Ben Nickelson (left) and father Jim Nickelson proudly display their MAEAP verification sign at their nursery on Hansen Road.