Maryland’s farmers have spoken…and they are not happy. As we reported November 14 on, the Maryland Department of Agriculture submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) proposed changes to the state nutrient management laws.

In a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley, dated today, the Maryland Farm Bureau accuses the government of attempting to “take” private property with the 35′ setback requirements for the application of nutrients (such as manure spreading) and the stream fencing requirements for pastures and hayfields with 10′ setbacks, with no compensation for the loss of productive land.

Interestingly, according to the MDA press release, MDA’s Nutrient Management Advisory Committee had reviewed the changes, leading a reader of the press release to assume that said committee was supportive of the proposed changes. However, the Farm Bureau alleges otherwise.  The Maryland Farm Bureau is an umbrella association for all ag-related organizations in Maryland, representing ag and rural interests to the Maryland legislature. The Maryland Horse Council is a member of MFB and has two seats on the Board.

From the Maryland Farm Bureau:

Dear Governor O’Malley:

We are sincerely disappointed at the direction the state’s nutrient management program is taking based on the most recent set of regulations sent forward by the Department of Agriculture to the AELR Committee. 

Since its inception, nutrient management planning on farms has been site specific and has taken into consideration the individual soil types, cropping schedule, nutrient needs and land characteristics of individual farms.  When the program became part of the regulatory structure in 1998, the plans maintained their site specific characteristics, even when assessing the risk of phosphorus loss using the P-Site Index. 

The regulatory proposal put forward by MDA, without the support of the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee, will turn our site-specific farm management tool into a one-size-fits-all prescription for farming that will force crop farmers to accept lower yields and livestock operators to take thousands of acres out of production because the cost of fencing every mile of stream that meanders through a pasture is not economically feasible.  The manure application restrictions are likely to cause higher risk to the environment and complaints from neighbors when 12 months of manure is applied in a 2-3 week period in the spring.  In addition, the one-size-fits-all “setback” in the proposed regulation is a “taking” of agricultural land without compensation and will disqualify Maryland farmers from participation in the highly successful federal CREP conservation program in the future.

Frankly, it appears to the farm community that the most recent proposal to change nutrient management guidelines are designed to simply “check off boxes” in the state’s TMDL requirements rather than as reasonable, economically feasible, practices that take into consideration the varying factors on each farm in the state.  Farmers in every county are working with their local WIP planning group and are committed to implement the Best Management Plan options laid out in each county.  This regulatory proposal short-circuits the TMDL/WIP process.

Farmers are frustrated by the whittling away of their ability to make farm-specific decisions to be productive while meeting nutrient reduction goals.  The speed at which Maryland is placing mandates and restricting farm practices makes it impossible for good scientific research and cost/benefit analysis to be conducted.  When you met with our Board of Directors during the summer of 2010, you pledged not to put Maryland farmers at a disadvantage compared to growers in other states.  I can assure you this proposal will do exactly that.  We are calling upon you now to uphold your pledge.

Listed below are some of our concerns about the most recent regulatory proposal to change the nutrient management program:

            I.  Setbacks for Nutrient Application –

                        A. We oppose the one-size-fits-all setback of 35-feet for the application of nutrients in proximity to surface water.  A required setback regardless of site specific conditions is a “taking” of private property.   We urge you to allow farmers to use site specific setbacks under a Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plan or other assessment that provides reasonable protection without undue reduction in field capacity. 

                        B.  We oppose language in the 10-foot setback requirement for pastures and hayfields that requires farmers to prevent livestock from depositing nutrients in the setback area.  We believe this is a mandate to fence all streams.  This requirement will impose a tremendous burden on farmers, whose livestock numbers have declined by 50% over the last 10 years.  The fencing of some streams will require the division of pastures in such a way as to cut off access to barns and other structures integral to the farm operation.  The language in the proposed regulation that prohibits a farmer from growing any crop or using the land in the 10 foot setback will make Maryland producers ineligible for participation in USDA’s CREP under federal guidelines in 2-CRP (Rev. 5), Amendment 1, paragraph 151.

                        It is our understanding that the state has not conducted an analysis of the amount of stream fencing that will have to occur under this mandate or the cost of that mandate.  Contrary to the declaration of the Department on the forms transmitting this proposed regulation to AELR, I can assure you that this mandate will have significantfinancial impact on the small businesses that are our family farms.

            II. Application Timing –

                        A.  The March 1st – September 9th requirement to inject or incorporate within 72 hours all organic nutrient sources should be deleted from the Guidelines.  The nutrient value of the organic nutrients is already calculated and included in a farm’s nutrient management plan and the nutrients are taken up by the growing crop.  By including the incorporation requirement for dry manures, the regulations will force farmers to disturb the soil and undo decades of no-till benefit for the Bay.   The current economic situation does not allow most farmers to invest in expensive new Turbo-Till equipment.  We believe the mandate to incorporate will lead to soil erosion and phosphorus transport and set back our ability to meet TMDL/WIP goals. 

                        B.  The requirement for 10-months of manure storage (and the call by the environmental community for 12-months storage) is wrongheaded for many reasons.  First, spreading 12 months worth of manure in one month in the spring could be a bigger environmental risk than the current process of spreading manure throughout the year based on soil holding capacity and crop need.  If spring rains are overwhelming, nutrients will move at higher rates if they are applied all at once in larger quantities.  Second, the farm community does not have the infrastructure (trucks and equipment to spread and incorporate) 12 months of manure in the 2 or 3 weeks prior to spring planting. 

                        The requirement for additional storage to comply with a winter application ban and a year-round restriction on traditional application by July 1, 2016 should be removed from the draft.  The cost of this requirement far outweighs the benefits in most cases.  Winter application of manure because of lack of storage capacity occurs in only a small percentage of cases.  Many of the winter applications due to storage capacity issues occur because of unusual rainfall patterns.  This is not an annual occurrence. It is our understanding that cost-share programs at the state and federal level are not sufficiently funded and do not allow investment in the amount of storage capacity called for in this regulation.                 

            III. Fall Fertilization Rates –

                        In the Maryland Nutrient Management Manual Supplement 3 MDA proposes to prohibit fall application of commercial fertilizer to small grain crops unless a soil nitrate test shows less than 10 ppm for wheat or 15 ppm for barley.  Our primary concern with this proposal is that it has not been fully vetted and the research to support it has not been peer reviewed.  In the two hour discussion held in May, we learned that the research was conducted only in modest yielding grain plots.  There is significant concern among professional agronomists that limiting fall nutrient use will stifle highly productive fields.  We believe more study and discussion should be given to determine the optimum soil nitrate level necessary for high yielding crop growth.  We urge you to withdraw this proposal until the research can be peer reviewed and agreement can be reached among Maryland’s professional agronomists.                

In conclusion, Maryland Farm Bureau urges you to direct the Maryland Department of Agriculture to withdraw or redraft many of the proposed nutrient management changes in a way that allows the site-specific characteristic of the program to continue.  We urge you to protect the diversity of our industry and allow for scientifically-proven agronomic practices to improve, not hinder, our ability to produce the highest quality food and fiber for consumers in Maryland and around the world.


Patricia A. Langenfelder, president

Maryland Farm Bureau