Responsible horse farm owners who compost their manure must deal with a plethora of agencies, certifications and reports and just general red tape.

Responsible horse farm owners have a Nutrient Management Plan and a Soil and Water Quality Plan.  They install Best Management Practices. They have to work with their local Soil Conservation District and if they compost their manure and sell it, then they must provide biannual tonnage reports on the amount of compost sold to the Maryland Department of Agriculture in order to maintain composting certification. To make the process less onerous, a horse farm owner or manager may also complete a course in composting from the University of Maryland and then pass the certification test given by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Now the Maryland Department of the Environment is jumping into this muck pile.

Currently under consideration are proposed regulations 26.04.11 for Composting Facilities.

Ostensibly, these regulations on Composting Facilities were designed to promote composting, but in reality will have the opposite effect as they include additional, burdensome permit and registration requirements from yet another government agency – all of which will make it less likely that more horse farm owners will compost – and more likely that horse farm owners currently composting will stop.

While we question the need for yet another government agency to regular farming activities, we likewise recognize that there are federal regulatory pressures bearing down on MDE that are broader than just farms. While we would prefer to see farms completely exempted from the proposed regulations 26.04.11 for Composting Facilities (after all, MDA and Soil Conservation are doing a fine job already), if it is too late to un-ring that bell, than The Equiery endorses the following suggestions for that we believe would encourage horse farm owners to be able to keep composting in their current environmentally friendly manners, and to continue to provide a reasonably priced product to the community service.

  • increase the square footage exemption from 5,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet (less than an acre), consistent with the exemption currently provided in the Forest Conservation Act law.
  • grandfather farms who have been composting for at least five years and that follow a Nutrient Management Plan and provide tonnage reports to MDA, to recognize established operations that already perform in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • exempt farm operations who sell less than 100 tons of compost per year, so that there’s not one broad brush stroke for commercial and family farm operations.

Click here to read these regulations in full.

For more analysis of the proposed regulations, please scroll down.

The comment period for these regulations, which closes today, may be sent to:

Hilary Miller, Deputy Director
Land Management Administration
1800 Washington Boulevard, Suite 610
Baltimore, MD  21230 1719


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Equiery reader and small-parcel farmer in Howard County, Keith Ohlinger, outlines for our readers his concerns about the MDE proposal, and how this may affect small parcel farmers.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS: B. Exemption. A Composting Facility Permit is not required for a composting facility that: Is located on a residential property and composts organic materials generated on the residential site, if the resulting compost is used on the residential site for personal, household, or family purposes;”

I help teach the Master Composter advanced training course for the Maryland Master Gardener program.  We encourage people to talk to their neighbors if they see them putting out leaves or grass or other yard waste for the curbside pick-up.  We ask them to ask if it is clean waste (no trash, chemicals, non-yard stuff, etc.) and if it is ask them if you can have it to compost.  Then when you have made compost give them some back for their use.  It helps the neighbor out, it keeps things out of our landfills, and it helps you out by being able to make more compost than you could have without it.  However, under the current proposal, those actions would require you to file for a Compost Facility Permit.  I also see no provision that would allow for situations like community gardens.

(2) Is located on a farm and meets the following conditions:
(i) The facility composts only organic materials generated on site or at another farm controlled by the same operator; and
(ii) The compost is used for personal, household, family, or agricultural purposes at the farm where the facility is located or at a farm controlled by the same operator;
(3) Is located on a farm required to submit a registration under Regulation .07 of this chapter, unless the Department requires the facility to obtain a Composting Facility Permit; or
(4) Is a Tier 1 or Tier 2 Facility and meets the following conditions:
(a) At all times, the facility uses no more than 5,000 square feet of area in support of composting operations;
(b) The facility complies with the general restrictions in Regulation .04A of this chapter; and
(c) Any windrows or storage piles are no higher than 9 feet.

It should be noted that the regulations define a farm is defined as: “(16) “Farm” means the site of a business or activity that tills, crops, keeps, pastures, or produces an agricultural product, including livestock, poultry, plants, trees, sod, food, feed, or fiber by in-ground, out-of-ground, container, or other culture.”

Many farms buy in or accept carbonaceous materials to help them bed their animals, manure to increase their compost generating capacity and to aid in composting animal carcasses. Other farms offer composted manure for sale or donation to non-farmers for their gardens, plants, flower beds, etc.  Based on the above regulation, those farms would now have to register with MDE because they are accepting organic materials from off-site and/or distributing compost for use off-site.  There are also many county and community programs which also may now be effected.

Where these regulations become murky for a farmer is in the application of what appears to be the stepped exemption criteria above, the definitions, and “.06 Existing Composting Facilities.”.  For example, a farmer who buys in woodchips or sawdust from a company would not meet the criteria for #1 as a residential property or #2 as a farmer that only uses on site materials.  Since they use off-site woodchips or sawdust, they may be exempt from getting a Compost Facility Permit, however, #3 above, they would have to register under “.07 registration of Certain On-farm Facilities.”.

However #4 above states that you would be exempt from a Compost Facility Permit if you are a Tier 1 or Tier 2 facility and meet certain criteria.  By definition a compost facility is:

(9) Composting facility.
(a) “Composting facility” means a facility where
composting takes place.
(b) “Composting facility” does not include a facility that is required to obtain:
(i) A Natural Wood Waste Recycling Facility Permit in
accordance with COMAR 26.04.09;
(ii) A Sewage Sludge Utilization Permit in accordance
with COMAR 26.04.06; or
(iii) A Refuse Disposal Permit in accordance with
COMAR 26.04.07.
(c) The exclusions in §B(9)(b) of this regulation apply only to the areas of a site for which one of the listed permits is required.”

So since composting is occurring on the farm, the farm meets the definition of a “farm”, and it also meets the definition of a “Composting Facility” I believe the farm could also be by definition a composting facility.  I DO NOT believe this was their intent because the four exemptions were listed out separately and a farm and Tier 1 and Tier 2 facilities are listed independent of one another.  A Tier 1 or Tier 2 facility is defined as:

(28) “Tier 1 Facility” means a composting facility that accepts only Type 1 feedstocks.
(29) Tier 2 Facility.
(a) “Tier 2 Facility” means a composting facility that accepts Type 2 feedstocks.
(b) “Tier 2 Facility” includes a composting facility that accepts Type 1 feedstocks in addition to Type 2 feedstocks.
(c) “Tier 2 Facility” does not include a composting facility that accepts Type 3 feedstocks.
(30) “Tier 2 Small Facility” means a Tier 2 Facility that produces 10,000 cubic yards or less of compost per year.
(31) “Tier 2 Large Facility” means a Tier 2 Facility that produces more than 10,000 cubic yards of compost per year. 

Type 1 and type 2 feedstocks are defined as:

(33) “Type 1 feedstock” means:
(a) Yard waste, as defined in Environment Article, §9-1701, Annotated Code of Maryland; and
(b) Other materials determined by the Department to pose a low level of risk from hazardous substances, human pathogens, and physical contaminants.
(34) “Type 2 feedstock” means:
(a) Source-separated organics from residential curbside or drop-off programs and non-residential sources, including but not limited to pre- and post-consumer food scraps and non-recyclable paper;
(b) Department-approved animal manure and bedding, with Department approval based on factors such as moisture content and pathogen risk;
(c) Department-approved industrially produced food processing materials, including industrial poultry and seafood residuals;
(d) Manufactured organic materials such as waxedcorrugated cardboard, non-coated paper, and compostable products;
(e) Other materials that the Department determines pose a low level of risk from hazardous substances and a higher level of risk from physical contaminants and human pathogens, compared to Type 1 feedstocks. 
Environment Article, §9-1701, Annotated Code of Maryland states that:
(T) (1) “Yard waste” means organic plant waste derived from gardening, landscaping, and tree trimming activities.
(2) “Yard waste” includes leaves, garden waste, lawn cuttings, weeds, and prunings.

However, regardless of their intent, by definition if a property is a farm that only accepts/has Type 1 and Type 2 Feedstocks (Woodchips, Saw Dust, Manure), and does not exceed 5,000 or have windrows higher than 9 feet, couldn’t it be exempt?  By definition it should be.  If the farm is currently in business then it would also meet the definition of an “Existing Compost Facility”:

(15) “Existing composting facility” means a composting facility that began operations on or before the effective date of this regulation. 


However, an existing facility would then have to comply with different criteria as an existing facility:

.06 Existing Composting Facilities.

A. This regulation applies to composting facilities that began operations on or before the effective date of this regulation.
B. Within 60 days after the effective date of this chapter, an existing composting facility, except a composting facility exempt from the permit requirement under Regulation .05B(1) or (2) of this chapter, shall submit an Existing Facility Notification to the Department.
C. The Existing Facility Notification required in §B of this regulation shall be submitted on a form provided by the Department and shall include at least:
(1) The name and location of the composting facility;
(2) Days and hours of operation;
(3) The name and contact information of the facility operator and the name of each operator certified by the Department of
Agriculture under COMAR 15.18.04;
(4) A brief description of the feedstocks currently accepted and their sources;
(5) An estimate of the quantity of feedstocks accepted annually and the quantity of compost produced annually, in cubic yards;
(6) The area, in square feet, that is used in support of composting operations; and
(7) Whether the compost is distributed off site.
D. An existing composting facility that has submitted a complete and timely Existing Facility Notification as required in §B of this regulation shall not be subject to the requirements in Regulations .05 and .07—.16 of this chapter until July 1, 2016, if the following conditions are met:
(1) The facility accepts only feedstocks that it accepted as of the effective date of this regulation and that were described in the
Existing Facility Notification, except that the sources of feedstocks may change if the nature and type of the material is substantially the same;
(2) The facility accepts materials in quantities not exceeding the annual quantity reported in the Existing Facility Notification; and
(3) The facility does not engage in composting in a manner likely to cause any of the prohibited acts listed in Regulation .04A of this chapter.
E. Nothing in this regulation shall be construed to prohibit the Department from enforcing any other law, regulation, or permit applicable to the existing composting facility.
I believe that the intent was to have a farm be a farm and a facility be a facility however the definitions are not clear and therefore create confusion.  So if we focus back on just a farm without Tier 1 or Tier 2 confusion, then Regulation .07 says:
“.07 Registration of Certain On-Farm Facilities.
A. Registration Required. The operator of a composting facility located at a farm shall submit a registration to the Department if:
(1) The facility at any time uses greater than 5,000 square feet in support of composting;
(2) The facility composts organic materials generated at a site other than:
(a) The farm where the facility is located; or
(b) A farm controlled by the same operator; and
(3) The compost is used at the farm where the facility is located or at a farm controlled by the same operator.
B. The registration required in §A of this regulation shall be submitted on a form provided by the Department and shall include:
(1) A description of the facility, including the method of composting and a description of the site on which the composting will or does take place;
(2) A description of the feedstocks accepted;
(3) The approximate quantities of each feedstock accepted;
(4) The origin of feedstocks accepted from off site; and
(5) Any other information requested by the Department related to composting activities.
C. The Department shall review the registration submitted under §A of this regulation and, based on the potential environmental risks of the facility, may require the facility to obtain a general or individual Composting Facility Permit, a State or NPDES discharge permit, or a State air quality permit.”


If I am reading this section correctly, it appears that if a farm is taking organic materials from off-site, even if the compost area is under 5,000 square feet, then that farmer would have to register and possibly comply with all the Compost Facility requirements at MDE’s choice.  I did not see any indication as to the cost of the permit or of registration for the farm.  In speaking with four different members of the Governor’s Task Force on Composting, it appears that the intention was that backyard composters be exempt and that farmers with under 5,000 square feet in support of composting be exempt as well.  That is not how the regulations are written however and I believe they need to be changed to reflect that intent.

I forwarded a shorter version of the above comments to the Legislative Liaison for MDE through one of our local State Senators and I received the following response:

To clarify, both community gardens and farms, regardless of the origin of the feedstocks, would be exempt from the permit and registration up to 5,000 sq ft, as long as the piles are 9 feet or shorter.  The first scenario with the neighbor-to-neighbor transfer of feedstocks would also be exempt as long as the person is not composting on over 5,000 sq ft, which seems unlikely in a person’s yard.  I think the confusion was coming from this provision, which your constituent interpreted to require registration of certain farms even if under 5,000 sq ft:
A. Registration Required. The operator of a composting facility located at a farm shall submit a registration to the Department if:
(1) The facility at any time uses greater than 5,000 square feet in support of composting;
(2) The facility composts organic materials generated at a site other than:
(a) The farm where the facility is located; or
(b) A farm controlled by the same operator; and

(3) The compost is used at the farm where the facility is located or at a farm controlled by the same 

But in order to be subject to the registration requirement, the farm has to meet all the conditions (1) – (3), meaning over 5,000 sq ft AND composts off-site materials AND uses the compost on site.  


The 5,000 sq ft exemption is located in .05B(4) and states that it applies to “A Tier 1 or Tier 2 facility,” regardless of where it is located, so farms, gardens, residences, etc. would all qualify as long as they are under the threshold.


My concern with this response is that, by definition and also his comments, we would meet the definition for a farm, a composting facility, and a Tier 1 / Tier 2 facility.  We then would also meet the definition of an “existing compost facility” because we will be in operation prior to the effective date of the regulation.  They may not have intended for that to be so but with the way it is written and the way they seem to be interpreting the regulation I’m not sure how we could argue any differently.  It seems to put a stricter requirement on the farm than the mere “Registering” of the farm.

So “How would I “fix” these regulations?”  It appears that MDE would like to exempt backyard composting, farm and commercial operations under a certain size.  At the same time they provide exemptions for private residences, some farms, farms that have to register, and Tier 1 and Tier 2 facilities.  This makes it very confusing because it appears on one hand they want to define and regulate everyone but then on the other hand they say they only want regulate larger operations.  If that is in truth and fact their intent, then do away with the multiple definitions and exemptions and just make the size the limiting factor.

For example:  If you are under 5,000 square feet in support of composting and your windrows are under 9 feet in height, then you are exempt.  If you are a farm and are over that then you must register.

I used the 5,000 square as an example because those are the numbers they propose, however I have read that those amounts will only make enough compost to supply 20 acres with compost.  If you are using onsite what you make onsite, I’m not sure why a farm would be so limited.  It seems to be a huge slight to the larger farms that are only trying to do the right thing.  Remember we could always say “forget you “ and send everything to the landfills, we are trying to help and do the right thing for the environment and the community, we should not be penalized for it!  I could certainly see that the size should be increased.  I also don’t understand their apparent concern for bringing in carbon feedstock from offsite.  I have never seen a problem occur from stockpiled carbon i.e. woodchips, leaves, sawdust, etc., I believe what they are really concerned about and what causes the real problems are nitrogen sources.  I don’t believe carbon should be restricted, you should be allowed to haul in as much as you want.