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Farmers Seek Balance from Nutrient Regulations
Prince Frederick, MD - 7/26/2012
By Marty Madden
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) conducted the fourth and final public meeting on proposed farm nutrient management regulations Wednesday, July 25 at the Calvert County Fairgrounds. Farmers from six counties—Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Montgomery—attended the session. At least one environmental group—the Maryland Sierra Club—had representatives on hand.
Earl “Buddy” Hance of Port Republic, the current MDA secretary, presided over the meeting. The purpose was to present an overview of the proposed changes to Maryland’s nutrient management regulations and obtain input from stakeholders.
The MDA’s mantra throughout the process has been “A Balanced Approach.” Department officials affirmed that the modifications to the regulations strike a balance that improves water quality while assuring farmers can manage profitable agricultural businesses.
The MDA’s presentation outlined the basic proposals submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review this past spring.
·By 2016, prohibit application of nutrients between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28
·Extend that deadline for small towns and small farms to 2020
·Restrict fall application of nutrients
·Restrict fall application of nutrients when based on spring crop needs
·Limit fall application of fertilizers on small grain crops
·Require incorporation of organic nutrients
·Require cover crops when using organic nutrients in the fall
There are also two provisions regarding nutrient application setbacks.
The changes in nutrient management are being driven by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates to dramatically reduce nutrient loads in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Assistant Secretary MDA Office of Resource Conservation Royden N. Powell II pointed out that several proposed changes “get phased in over time.”
“Every two years we have to make sure we're on track,” said Hance, who indicated many Maryland farmers are ahead of the curve since the practice of planting cover crops is so widespread. Hance indicated that in order for the MDA to mollify the EPA, the regulation modifications are necessary. “The EPA wants to see something they have faith in,” said Hance.
Some opposition was voiced during the meeting. Michael Sullivan of Hollywood, representing the St. Mary’s Metropolitan Commission, read a statement into the record stating the commission is adamantly opposed to the revisions due to a lack of a cost benefits analysis and the “one size fits all” strategy mandated by the measures. The cost of the regulation to the farming community, said Sullivan, would be “staggering.”
Former Maryland Farm Bureau president and Owings resident Mike Phipps also wondered about the apparent lack of a cost benefits analysis. Phipps also wondered what would happen if the revisions were implemented but failed to reduce nutrients in the bay and tributaries. “Maryland is not in a vacuum,” said Phipps. “This model needs to be fixed or neutered. This really puts pressure on small family farms.”
Phipps added that the modified regulations would be “a further discouragement for young farmers.”
Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, opined that the regulations needed to be tweaked. “I see no conflict between the role of the farmer and the environmentalist,” said Tutman. “Every farmer I know is between a rock and a hard place. There’s no need to have an operation where the patient dies.”
Tutman said the EPA and Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) officials needed to pay more attention to urban runoff. “Clean water and robust farms, we ought to have both,” said Tutman.
“I hope this is not just being put on the farmers’ backs,” said Eileen Hopkins of Charlotte Hall, who added residential subdivisions and homeowners who over-fertilize their lawns are just as culpable.
Dave Lyons of La Plata indicated watermen who over-dredge the Bay and tributaries for oysters, clams and other shellfish also need to be reined in by regulators. “It [dredging] increases the sediment,” said Lyons. “I think it ought to be addressed.”
“We’re looking at it from a scientific point of view,” said Joshua Tulkin, Maryland state director of the Sierra Club. Tulkin admitted he helped draft some of the proposed nutrient management regulations. Of the three previous nutrient management regulation meetings this month, Tulkin added, “everyone seemed equally angry with us.”
The public comment period for the proposed changes ends Aug. 13. The MDA may either adopt or modify the proposal. Significant changes in the draft will start the public comment process all over.
“This is part of our plan moving forward,” said Hance. “We are trying to balance the changes without putting you all out of business.”
More information about the proposed changes to the nutrient management regulations can be found on the MDA web site www.mda.state.md.us
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org
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