ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 5, 2007) - Now that 95 percent of the state's eligible farmers are under nutrient management plans, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is now focusing its efforts to bring the remaining 300 farmers who do not have plans into compliance. In addition, MDA will increase on-farm implementation inspections, and ramp up enforcement actions, against those who are found to be out of compliance.
Ninety-seven percent of the state's 1.3 million acres of crop land and 95 percent of the state's 6,300 eligible farmers are complying with the state's nutrient management law, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998.
"Maryland farmers are on board and complying with the nutrient management law," said Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson. "We have used an implementation protocol phasing in regulations, by initially focusing education, technical assistance, and available staffing resources to bring all farmers into compliance. We are now at the point where a stronger level of enforcement is necessary to assure that all farmers are complying and the environmental objectives of the law are met."
To date, more than 1,600 first notices and 230 warning letters have been sent to non-compliant farmers as required by the law. As a result, most farmers notified have submitted plans. For those who continue to resist, MDA has sent 31 charge letters and issued two fines. In one case, the farmer paid the fine and got a nutrient management plan. In the other case, MDA took legal action and on July 13, 2007 Administrative Law Judge Mary Shock issued a fine and corrective instructions to Washington County livestock farmer, D. Lynn Flook (OAH no: MDA-NMP-40-07-11355). Both fines were $350, the maximum first-time fine allowable by the law.
"While we don't enjoy issuing penalties, as a regulatory agency it is our responsibility to make sure that we do everything we can to see that laws are followed," said Secretary Richardson. "It is time and only fair to the thousands of farmers who are in compliance with the law that we actively pursue violators of the nutrient management law."
Nutrient management plans are science-based documents that help farmers manage crop nutrients and animal waste more efficiently in order to protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. All farmers grossing $2,500 a year or more or livestock producers with 8,000 pounds or more of live animal weight are required by law to run their operations using a nutrient management plan that addresses both nitrogen and phosphorus inputs.
The Nutrient Management Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of Agriculture on programs and policy related to the Water Quality Improvement Act, recently endorsed a Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) proposal to ramp up enforcement to assure compliance including amendments to the law to increase penalties and fines.
MDA's six nutrient management specialists began on-farm compliance inspections in January, 2006. Last calendar year, MDA staff conducted 340 inspections to insure that farmers' nutrient application records and receipts along with a visual spot check of their operation are in line with their nutrient management plan. This year, MDA will conduct 600 (or about 10 percent) on-farm nutrient management inspections. These are being targeted to address a risk-based sampling of farms. Forty percent will be of animal operations and those using biosolids.
MDA also is working with the Maryland Department of the Environment to move forward with state regulations to address concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFOs) regulations in the absence of any from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In addition to and as part of their nutrient management planning, since 1985, farmers have shown their interest and willingness to help restore the Chesapeake Bay and the state's other waterways by spending more than $11 million of their own money to match about $90 million in state water quality cost share funds to install more than 21,000 "best management practices (BMPs)" - that is almost three per day every day of the year. Examples of the 30 BMPs eligible to receive state cost share include manure storage structures, watering troughs, and fencing to keep livestock out of streams. Farmers who are not in compliance with the nutrient management law are prohibited from receiving MDA funding.
According to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program figures, these BMPs and others such as cover crops, have resulted in a significant achievement of Maryland's 2005 Tributary Strategy goals for agriculture. Since 1985, Maryland agriculture has achieved 54 percent nitrogen reduction, 70 percent phosphorus reduction; and 54 percent sediment reduction.
For more information about the nutrient management program, agricultural best management practices and tributary strategy progress, log onto www.mda.state.md.us/resource_conservation/trib_strategies/index.php. For information about all tributary strategies, log onto the newly launched BayStat website, www.baystat.maryland.gov.
Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA)