They may officially be called “nutrient management regulations,” but we horse people think of them as the “manure management laws.” The Maryland Department of Agriculture has proposed changes to the manure management laws, and the Maryland Horse Council will be discussing them on Tuesday, November 15, 5 p.m. (with a meet and greet reception to follow, just in case you are hungry; the MHC formal meeting will commence at 7 p.m.; click here for more information).

On October 27, 2011, the Maryland Department of Agriculture submitted these proposed changes to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR). According to MDA, the purpose of the changes is to achieve consistency in how all sources of nutrients (from chemical fertilizers to manure) are managed. Once the proposed changes are published in the Maryland Register, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) will provide public notice and offer a 45-day public comment period. A summary of the MDA’s proposed changes submitted to AELR, with a link to the full text of the proposed regulations, is available here.

“As science evolves and we learn more about how to better manage farms, it’s appropriate to change policies. Maryland, like all of the Bay states, is dealing with increasingly stringent environmental regulations. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) and the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) address all sectors dealing with both point source and non-point source controls which include agriculture,” said Secretary Buddy Hance. “This is causing us to look inward to craft changes to existing regulations. We are mindful that these changes may require new technology, and we continue to offer farmers existing cost-share programs to help us meet the goal of a healthier Chesapeake Bay.”

The Nutrient Management Advisory Committee has been reviewing the scientifically-based proposed regulatory changes to the current nutrient management regulations for the past year. MDA received a significant number of comments from various ag groups during the process. Horse people raised our own hue and cry this summer after hearing that the committee was considering methods such as requiring all intermittent streams to be fenced, and MDA apparently took those concerns seriously.

If the AELR Committee approves 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, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, commercial lawn care companies, and the biosolids industry, as well as local governments and the state legislature.

A summary of the MDA’s proposed changes submitted to AELR here.

How do the proposed changes affect horse farm owners?

Attorney Jane Seigler, Vice President of the Maryland Horse Council and former owner of Reddemeade Farm in Montgomery County, reviewed the proposed changes to determine how the changes would affect owners of horse farms.


Effective January 1, 2014, setbacks of vegetated areas, where no nutrients may be deposited or applied, will be required at the edge of surface water:

Pastures and hayfields are subject to a 10-foot application setback; no nutrients shall be applied mechanically or deposited by livestock with the setback. Sacrifice lots (less than 75% grass or grass legume mix) shall maintain a 35-foot setback.

Essentially, this means that streams and ponds must be fenced. One improvement in this provision over a previous version is that “ephemeral streams” are now excluded from the definition of surface water.


Operators are responsible for sediment and erosion control of stream crossing areas. Operators shall move livestock from one side of the stream to the other side only through stream crossings designed to prevent erosion and sediment loss. Operators shall gate crossing areas wider than 12 feet. Operators may allow livestock controlled access to streams for watering in accordance with the USDA-NRCRS Field Office Technical Guide standards and specifications.

There is no effective date specified for this provision.

Timing of application of nutrients

During Spring and Summer (March 1 – September 9) manure may be spread or deposited directly on permanent pastures and land used for hay production. These applications will now be exempt from the requirement that nutrients be “injected or incorporated” within 72 hours, as was contained in a previous draft.

During the Fall (September 10 – November 15) livestock manure may be applied only if:

The operation making the application is generating the dairy/livestock manure or waste and storage is insufficient to accommodate additional materials generated before March 1st of the following year.

Again, there is no incorporation requirement for pastures or hayfields.

During the winter (November 16 – February 28): The new proposal is somewhat unclear about manure spreading in winter. The proposal states that “non-stackable” (i.e., most likely dairy) organic fertilizer may be applied to “cropland” in winter under certain very limited conditions. There is no reference in this section of the proposal to application of manure to pastures and hayfields. In any event, virtually all winter applications will be prohibited effective July 1, 2016. Famers will be expected to have adequate manure storage facilities in place to handle 120 days of manure production, and no manure may be applied to fields (except for what is directly applied by livestock). The 2016 effective date is intended to give farmers enough time to plan for the installation of fenced setbacks and manure storage facilities, and to apply for cost-share and other government programs providing financial assistance. However, funds for these programs are limited and often are based on operational assumptions that are not practical for horses. Some farmers are not eligible at all for these programs, due to the nature of their operations.

Remember, the “official” 45-day “public comment period” has not yet commenced, and will only commence if AELR approves the proposed changes. In the meantime, you can submit comments directly to members of the AELR:

Senate Members

Paul G. Pinsky, Senate Chair; John C. Astle; David R. Brinkley (a horseman!); Jim Brochin; Richard F. Colburn; Jennie M. Forehand; Lisa A. Gladden; Nancy Jacobs; Norman R. Stone, Jr.; Bobby Zirkin

House Members

Anne Healey, House Chair; Eric M. Bromwell; Robert A. Costa; Adelaide C. Eckardt; Brian J. Feldman; Keith E. Haynes; Jolene Ivey; Dan K. Morhaim; Justin D. Ross; Michael D. Smigiel, Sr.

To email a member of the Committee, use this link and call up the member’s name in the list.

Obviously, the uneasy relationship between farmers and environmental regulators will persist. Horse farmers, however, should not lose sight of the fact that they already play an important and positive role in protecting the health of the Bay. There is no more beneficial use of land in terms of protecting water quality than a well-managed horse pasture.

Given the inevitability of the clean-water requirements, horse farmers may well want to consider how they can get out in front of this issue, to help improve the Bay without hurting their bottom lines. One proposal that has garnered some interest is the possibility of developing “nutrient trading” programs, where those who produce very low levels of pollutants, e.g., horse farmers, can receive payments from sectors that produce higher levels. The practicability of such a plan remains to be demonstrated, but it is worth watching for.

In the meantime, lots of free advice and help are still available from local soil conservation districts who can provide horse farmers with individualized soil conservation plans that improve both farm operational efficiency and the health of the environment. Help in finding and applying for cost-share programs and grants is also available, and participation in these programs is voluntary. Information on local Soil Conservation Districts can be found here.

Why Do Horse Farm Owners Have To Do All Of This? Because, as the saying goes, “it” all flows downhill…

A Primer on the History of Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations 

By attorney Jane Seigler, former owner of Reddemeade Farm in Montgomery County and vice president of the Maryland Horse Council.

There are a number of things coming down the pike – or, more precisely, down the stream – that may affect Maryland horse farm owners in the near future, all generally related to federal and state initiatives to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. If they haven’t already, wise landowners should start to familiarize themselves with the concepts and processes involved in these initiatives, and prepare to make their voices heard when necessary.

In 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which in essence mandated that polluted water bodies be restored to environmental health. In the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), complaining of the slow progress in improving the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. These lawsuits resulted in two consent decrees that eventually produced what are known as the Bay TMDL and the WIP.

The Bay TMDL (or “Total Maximum Daily Load”) is essentially a prescription for the maximum amount of a pollutant that will be allowed to enter a water body. TMDL’s have been variously described as “pollution budgets” or “pollution diets” that must be adhered to if the Bay is to be restored to, and maintain, environmental health. For the Bay, the pollutants that are subject to the TMDL are nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

In 2010, the EPA established the TMDLs for the Bay watershed, an area of 64,000 square miles including New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, and required these jurisdictions to develop “Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans” (WIPs). These Phase I WIPs allocated the allowable pollutant load among different types of sources and identified statewide strategies for reducing these nutrient and sediment pollutants. Click here to read the Executive Summary of Maryland’s Phase 1 WIP and see the entire Maryland Phase I WIP here.

Click here for general information.

Maryland is now engaged in developing its Phase II WIP. The Maryland Phase I WIP identified the following broad sources of pollutants: agriculture, urban, septic, wastewater and forest. The Phase II WIP will refine the Phase I plan to include more local details about where and how nutrient and sediment loads will be reduced to clean up the Bay.

Although the Phase II WIP is a state document, required by EPA, the state is working with local teams, organized at the county level, to produce the plan. These teams include representation by entities with responsibility and authority to control nutrient and sediment loads, such as county and municipal governments, soil conservation districts, and federal and state agencies among others. Meetings are currently underway on a county by county basis to discuss specific targets and goals for pollutant reduction and receive input from stakeholders about their realistic achievability. To find out about the status in your county, click here and scroll down to click on your county.

So what does this all mean to you, the Maryland horse farm owner?

TMDLs apply to both “point” (e.g., industrial facilities and sewage treatment plants) and “non-point” (e.g., runoff from the land following rain or snow melt) sources of pollutants. However, although there are direct regulatory mechanisms under the Clean Water Act for enforcing TMDL requirements for “point” sources, e.g., through the permitting process, “non-point” sources are generally not regulated and so there is no direct enforcement mechanism.

Achievement of TMDL goals for non-point sources generally must be reached by promoting the use of best management practices (BMPs) through incentives such as cost-sharing and grants (although in this era of budget cutting, there is admittedly not enough grant money to address all non-point source discharges). In order to meet its TMDL goals for the agricultural sector, the state and county teams are looking at how the use of certain best management practices, e.g. cover crops, stream buffers and fencing, manure incorporation, etc., can be increased, with a resultant reduction in pollution reaching the Bay.

Although, at this point, neither the state nor the federal government can force individual landowners to use certain BMPs, there is enormous pressure, both legal and political, on the state to meet its TMDL goals.

As we said earlier, “it” flows downhill.


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