UPDATE: Op/ed from The Frederick News-Post, Oct. 22, 2012

On October 15, 2012, the new manure and nutrient management regulations for Maryland went into effect, after being published as “final” in the October 5 edition of the Maryland Register. Regular readers of equiery.com or News & Views in our monthly edition know how controversial these proposals have been, and how frustrated farmers and landowners are by what they perceive to be the tin ear of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. An August meeting of the Maryland Horse Council was tense at times, with government employees attempting to justify the reasoning why increased regulation is a good thing and supported by science, while farm owners and elected officials, including Sen. David Brinkley, systematically dismantled or challenged the government employees’ claims. Talk about a lively town hall debate!

The Maryland Farm Bureau, which has consistently and actively opposed the new regulations, printed this summary in its October update:

The new regulations will alter nutrient management plans to require “fertilizer-free” buffer zones near streams, fencing of livestock out of streams, and incorporation of organic fertilizer. The regs also establish November 1st (Easter Shore) and November 15th (western shore) as the fall dates beyond which no fertilizer may be applied until March 1st. Finally, the new regs require testing prior to nitrogen application for fall seeded crops. The winter nutrient application ban applies to manures, commercial fertilizer and sewage sludge/biosolids.

As per the new rules, homeowners are best to use sites like https://www.lawncare.net/service-areas/new-jersey/ to find somebody to maintain their land whilst adhering to the rules as it can be difficult to know what products are safe to use. Farm owners will not have this luxury however and are best contacting their suppliers for more information on the products that they use on their crops. For “Nutrient Management in a Nutshell” for horse farms, please visit the Maryland Horse Council’s legislative blog. According to a press release issued by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the new regs “are designed to achieve consistency in the way all sources of nutrients are managed and help Maryland meet nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals spelled out in its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.”

MDA also states: The Nutrient Management Advisory Committee has been working on the revised regulations for nearly two years. The new rules were originally introduced last October; however, due to overwhelming feedback, Governor Martin O’Malley asked that the proposed regulations be placed on hold to provide an additional opportunity for stakeholders to further discuss the proposal as well as input from his BayStat Scientific Panel. The regulations were revised and published in the Maryland Register on June 29. MDA then held a series of four public meetings across the state in July to provide information to farmers, environmental interests, local governments and other stakeholders on the proposed changes to Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations and offer an opportunity for public comment.”

What MDA is not stating is that farmers and landowners are still not happy. Many farmers feel that the “series of four public meetings in July…to provide information to farmers…and offer an opportunity for public comment” were dog and pony shows, as “opportunity for public comment” apparently did not mean “opportunity to influence the regulations,” as really only the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee was able to influence the process.

According to MDA, the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee was established in 1998 to develop and refine regulations and requirements for Maryland’s Nutrient Management Program, The 16 member committee includes representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, MDA, University of Maryland, Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Department of 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.

MDA provides this Frequently Asked Questions document.

Another way to skin the cat? Efforts to move regulating the Chesapeake away from the feds to the states.

(With apologies to a former Equiery associate publisher, who hates that idiom.)

From the Maryland Farm Bureau October Update: Attorneys for the American Farm Bureau Federation delivered legal arguments Thursday, October 4th explaining why the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Water Act when it issued its “Total Maximum Daily Load” regulation for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

AFBF believes that states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, not the federal government, are authorized by law to decide how best to achieve water quality goals. “The Clean Water Act put states in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about how to achieve clean water and restrictions on land use and development,” according to Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for AFBF.

AFBF delivered the oral arguments and answered questions during a lengthy session before Judge Sylvia H. Rambo in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Pa. More than a dozen Pennsylvania farmers, as well as staff from several state Farm Bureau organizations within the watershed, attended the argument to show their support for the legal challenge.

“Judge Rambo clearly believes this case is important and involves complex legal questions,” said AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen. “She had carefully studied the parties’ arguments and was active in her questioning. At the end of a very long day of arguments, she told the parties not to expect a quick decision.”

Were AFBF to succeed in this effort, perhaps this would mean a reset for the nutrient management regulations.