The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports that, on May 22, 2012, proposed changes to Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations were submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) for review.

Readers may remember the brouhaha last summer when the initial version of this proposal was released:

Proposed Changes to Law Onerous to Horse Farm Owners

Horse Farm Owners Speak Out, Sec. of Ag. Clarifies

The grassroots uproar (go Equiery readers!) resulted in Governor’s O’Malley pulling the proposed regs.

Maryland Farmers Buck Proposed Manure & Fencing Regs

MDA went back to the drawing board, and now, after months of negotiations with various ag-related and other stakeholder groups, the Department has finalized its proposal for new rules for the use of manure, biosolids and other organic nutrient sources on crop fields. The stated goal of the process is to achieve consistency in the way all sources of nutrients are managed. Once the proposed changes are published in the Maryland Register, MDA will provide public notice and offer a 45-day public comment period.

Click here for summary of the MDA’s proposed changes that were submitted to AELR.

In crafting the nutrient management regulations, Maryland has attempted to considered recommendations of Governor Martin O’Malley’s BayStat Science Panel as well as concerns raised by environmental, agricultural and municipal stakeholders.

“The revised regulations strike a balance between maximizing water quality benefits, addressing the practical needs of implementing requirements in the field, and assuring economic impacts are manageable,” said Agricultural Secretary Buddy Hance. “When taken as a whole, the revised regulations will advance agricultural water quality management far beyond any efforts existing in other jurisdictions.”

The new regulations are intended to help Maryland meet nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals spelled out in its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. Once approved, the proposed changes will be included in MDA’s Nutrient Management Manual.

According to MDA’s press release, key features of the new regulations include:

**  Beginning July 1, 2016, nutrient applications will be prohibited between November 1 and March 1 for Eastern Shore farmers and between November 15 and March 1 for Western Shore farmers.

**  Organic nutrients will need to be incorporated into the soil within 48 hours of application.

**  Farmers will be required to plant cover crops when they use organic nutrient sources in the fall.

**  Beginning 2014, farmers will be required to establish a 10 to 35 foot “no fertilizer application zone” adjacent to surface water and streams.

**  Beginning 2014, farmers will be required to protect streams from livestock traffic by providing fencing or approved alternative best management practices.

**  Fall fertilizer applications for small grains will be limited.

**  Guidance and clarification is provided on the use of soil amendments and soil conditioners.

“The implementation schedule addresses a major stakeholder concern and should provide farmers and local governments with adequate time to comply with the new regulations and to apply for cost-share funding to install additional best management practices,” said Secretary Hance. “The O’Malley Administration is committed to providing farmers with the critical financial resources necessary to meet our shared environmental goals.”

The Nutrient Management Advisory Committee has been working on the revised regulations for more than a year.  The new rules were originally introduced last fall; however, due to overwhelming feedback [go horse people!] Governor O’Malley asked that the proposed regulations be placed on hold to provide an additional opportunity for stakeholders to further discuss the proposal.

If the AELR Committee does not delay the proposed regulatory changes, they will be published in the Maryland Register for a 45-day public comment period. After the comment period closes, MDA will review any comments. If MDA makes substantive changes as a result of the public comment, the revised regulations will be resubmitted to the AELR and the Maryland Register.

Established in 1998 to develop and refine regulations and requirements for Maryland’s Nutrient Management Program, the 16-member Nutrient Management Advisory Committee includes representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, MDA, University of Maryland, Maryland departments of the Environment and Natural Resources, Maryland Farm Bureau, Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, commercial lawn care companies, the biosolids industry, as well as local governments and the state legislature.

What does this mean for horse farm owners?

It is hard to say what these proposed regs actually mean for horse people, as the proposal has not yet been made public, and won’t be made public until it receives the thumbs up from the AELR Committee. Once it is public, we will have 45 days to review and comment (and we will post for our readers those links once available).

Pam Saul, owner and manager of Rolling Acres in Montgomery County (a large horse and hay operation) and an active member of Farm Bureau, reviewed the summary provided by MDA in the powerpoint presentation, and observed that this proposal seems slightly better than the prior proposal, but that “it wasn’t all that good to start with. Where we were concerned about fencing livestock from the setback, they have added that a person can work with the conservation district to implement BMP (Best Management Practices) which still means that we will be required to fence out horses from streams.  And sacrifice lots shall have a 35-foot setback. The only good part is that ephemeral streams, irrigation and treatment ditches and field ditches have been removed.”

What can we do?

Review MDA’s summary and continue to monitor this site for updates and the link to the full proposal (if and when it becomes available, pending AELR’s approval).  Stay connected with your legislators in Annapolis, and get involved with the groups working to protect your interests in Annapolis, the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Horse Council.


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