The Maryland Horse Council seeks to minimize red tape for horse farm owners

Have you ever tried to do a project on your horse farm and been stymied by bizarre permitting requirements?

If so, you should know that the Maryland Horse Council is working hard to try to not only get the counties to treat all equine-related structures the same from county-to-county, but to have all equine-related structures consistently treated as ag buildings.

According to MHC Director Steuart Pittman, in a letter to the Maryland Department of the Environment:

The lack of a definition of agricultural structures was a problem that allowed some counties to require Erosion and Sediment Control plans for site preparation for barns, sheds, and indoor riding arenas. Some of those counties also required that farmers hire civil engineers to stamp site plans even when Soil Conservation District staff were involved in the projects. The costs in many cases were exorbitant and the engineers often had no experience with farm management issues.

MDE has drafted guidelines that will amend the regulation that contradicted state law on the need for Erosion and Sediment Control Plans for agricultural structures.  However, the definitions for ag structures in the MDE guidelines are not consistent with the definitions used within the Department of Agriculture. MDE proposes defining an ag structure thus:

An Agricultural Structure means a structure built on a farm used to further crop and livestock production and conservation of related soil and water resources. The structure may be used for basic processing of products produced on the farm on which it is located. Basic processing does not change the form of the product, but does include treatment such as cutting, drying, and packing necessary for storing and marketing. Agricultural structures cannot be used for human occupancy, nor are they intended for access by the general public.

Writes Pittman:

This definition states that an agricultural structure must be “used to further crop and livestock production.” Under the provisions of the 2009 Horses as Agriculture statute (Agriculture, sections 2-701(d) and 2-702.1), caring for and training horses and similar activities are clearly defined as agriculture. Some counties might argue

that these activities are not “livestock production” unless exclusively devoted to breeding. Under that interpretation, the definition would exclude most barns, sheds and private riding arenas.

 The Maryland Horse Council proposes that the definition of an agricultural structure include as an allowed use “keeping and managing livestock.”

Explains Steuart:

Horses are classified as livestock in state and federal law, and “keeping and managing” covers the typical activities that take place on horse farms.

Maryland Horse Council understands the rationale behind excluding buildings ‘intended for access by the general public.’ 

Counties have struggled with the meaning of this restriction in local law, and generally conclude that a building where horses are boarded is not a public use building because each “client” is under contract to have his or her livestock managed at the facility or has a rental agreement to use the livestock housed at the facility. Public use in the horse industry generally refers to stores, show facilities that attract spectators, and racetracks.

Unless the definition of an agricultural structure is amended to include buildings used to keep and manage horses, the horse farms that make up 587,000 acres of the state’s farmland will be required to comply with the same site preparation rules as urban developers. Civil engineers would replace Soil Conservation District staff as the liaison between the farm owners and county government during farm modernization projects, leaving the farm owners less incentive to maintain the Cooperator Agreements that are the foundation Soil Conservation Districts’ positive influence on farms.

The exclusion of many kinds of value added production seems to have no policy rationale. Private wineries, dairies that produce ice cream, and any number of other activities that take place under the roofs of agricultural buildings have the same effect on erosion and sediment loss regardless of the activity. We believe that when the General Assembly exempted agricultural structures from erosion and sediment control plan requirements it envisioned agriculture in broader terms than this definition allows. We see no policy argument in favor of the narrow definition in the draft that has been circulated.

The Equiery endorses the Maryland Horse Council’s recommendations to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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