An Open Letter to the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture
by Patricia A. Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau
The Board of Directors of the Maryland Farm Bureau, on behalf of our 37,000 member families, would like to go on record in opposition to the direction MDA has taken with the nutrient management regulatory changes that were proposed on June 29, 2012. There was a time when best management practices and nutrient management were carried out in conjunction with farming, to improve the production outcome on individual farms as well as protect the environment. With the proposed regulations, the scale has tipped so that regulations now require practices that are contrary to the business of farming and without the site-specific planning tools that have proven successful over time.
Rather than concentrating on growing the best quality, most efficient crop or livestock they can produce, farmers will now have to spend valuable time managing and moving nutrients to fit the chaotic timeframe outlined in these “one-size-fits-all” regulations. Livestock operators will have to take major portions of their pastures out of production, invest in expensive fencing and try to manage many acres of noxious weeds that will grow along the stream banks in the buffer. Millions of dollars of farmer and taxpayer funds will be spent regardless of the actual consequences to the Bay on fencing and manure storage facilities.
The overall level of frustration is high in the farm community. They view the series of recent actions by the state as the largest taking of private property in the last quarter century. Between the fallow land required in the proposed nutrient management regulations, the cancellation of development options on farms under the septic ban and the implementation of Plan Maryland, farmers are angry and frustrated.
Specifically, farmers have identified the following as they begin to review the regulations:
1. November 1st and November 15th
Absolute dates barring farming activities will not work when weather patterns change drastically from one year to the next. There are many different weather issues that may slow down fall harvest and prevent a farmer from meeting absolute dates. In addition, dates determined based on an east-west divide have no basis in science. Latitude rather than longitude is a more reliable indicator of when farmers will be able to plant, and thus when they will be able to harvest crops. Under the requirement in this proposal, a farmer in the southern tip of Maryland in St. Mary’s County would have 2 weeks longer to harvest, fertilize and prepare for winter than a farmer in the northern portions of Kent County.
2. Cost-share funding
The installation of additional manure storage facilities and the prohibition on spreading should be contingent on funding from the state or USDA/NRCS. Adding a few extra months of storage capacity to an existing manure storage structure on a dairy will cost as much as building the original unit. The investment will not bring additional income to the farm. Milk prices will not increase as a result of the storage change.
3. Incorporation vs. no-till
Maryland farmers take pride in their conservation achievement with no-till farming. Disturbing the soil as mandated by the incorporation provisions of this regulation will cause new problems associated with surface runoff and erosion.
4. Economic Impact
The Administration’s Estimate of Economic Impact as printed in the Maryland Register is incomplete. There is no estimated cost for farmers or for the state on the construction of storage structures. There is no estimate of the number of acres of farmland that will have to be taken out of production as a result of universal 35-foot buffers and stream fencing. There is no estimate of financial loss to farmers for taking that land out of production.
Farmers disagree with the Administration’s economic assumption that “the ensuing recommendations will have a positive impact” on farms. Every farmer who has reviewed the proposed regulations has concluded that implementation will cost significantly more than it will ever benefit the operation. The Administration’s statement also claims that “current state and federal programs can offset the majority of additional costs incurred by agricultural operations.” However, farmers who have started to analyze changes that will be necessary on their farms as a result of the new requirements have been told there is no funding available when they have approached the state technical assistance providers.
Additionally, it is claimed several times throughout the economic impact section that the potential exists for manure-to-energy technologies to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with manure storage and management. Such technologies are hardly widespread, require significant upfront capital expenditures, and, in many cases, require ongoing government subsidization.
Maryland Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors recommends that the proposed regulations be withdrawn. A better and more effective approach would be to work through Soil Conservation District offices to provide farmers with Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plans, which are site-specific and address conservation concerns that are most likely to improve overall Bay water quality. State and federal funds should be targeted towards helping farmers address the needs outlined in the site-specific plans.