ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 2, 2008)—The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) on Thursday released the latest compliance figures for its Nutrient Management Program. Established by state law in 1998, the program requires Maryland farmers to protect waterways from farm runoff by following nutrient management plans when caring for livestock and applying fertilizer, manure or other nutrient sources to crop fields.
Nutrient runoff from farms, septic systems, and fertilization of residential and golf course lawns into local waterways is one of the leading causes of pollution and loss of marine life in the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the program's newly released 2007 annual progress report, Implementing Nutrient Management in Maryland, as of Dec. 31, 2007, 97 percent of the state's 6,100 eligible farmers have filed nutrient management plans with MDA. These plans cover approximately 1.3 million acres or 98 percent of the cropland affected by the law. In addition, 94 percent of eligible farmers have filed their required Annual Implementation Reports that show how they implemented their plans during the preceding year.
"This annual report illustrates that the vast majority of farmers are strong stewards of the land and are complying with the nutrient management law," said Governor Martin O'Malley. "Farmers are our partners in protecting the environment and our treasured Chesapeake Bay. Our well-managed family farms are critical to protecting our environmental priorities. Sustainable agriculture strengthens our rural economies, keeps our land open and in production rather than being developed, and protects our natural resources and local food supply."
Nutrient management plans are science-based documents that help farmers manage fertilizers, animal waste and other nutrient sources more efficiently to meet crop needs while protecting 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 requirement applies to all agricultural land used to produce plants, food, feed, fiber, animals or other agricultural products.
In addition to farmers, commercial, non-agricultural nutrient applicators - including lawn care companies, landscapers, golf course managers and public groundskeepers - are required by Maryland law to follow Maryland Cooperative Extension guidelines when applying nutrients to lawns, athletic fields or other landscapes.
According to the MDA report, the program's urban nutrient management section is beefing up its reviews of golf course fertilizer programs in response to nutrient guidelines released in 2007 by the University of Maryland. Additionally, MDA has reviewed the records and fertilizer programs of approximately, 250 firms. Firms receiving unsatisfactory reviews have been given deadlines for compliance and face fines for continued infractions.
"Our latest compliance figures for the agricultural nutrient management program speak for themselves," said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Roger Richardson. "Maryland farmers and other nutrient applicators are by and large complying with the nutrient management law. Enforcement actions are underway to bring the few remaining farmers who do not have plans into compliance and our inspection team is working hard to ensure that all plans are updated and implemented as required by Maryland law."
In 2007, MDA ramped up enforcement efforts to bring the remaining farmers who did not have plans into compliance and ensure the environmental objectives of the law are met. In calendar year 2007, MDA issued 90 first notices and 43 warning letters to farmers who had not submitted plans. Most farmers subsequently submitted plans to MDA; however, 16 charge letters were sent to the remaining non-compliant farmers ordering them to comply with the law, pay the fine or attend a hearing. MDA is working through the enforcement process to bring the remaining 179 farmers into compliance.
"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 only fair to the thousands of farmers who are in compliance with the law that we actively pursue violators of the nutrient management law."
Copies of the Nutrient Management Program's 2007 annual report are available on MDA's web site at http://www.mda.state.md.us/publications/annual_reports.php. In a separate report, MDA announced that in 2007, its Maryland Agricultural Cost Share (MACS) Program provided Maryland farmers with $13.1 million in grants to install 2,181 on-farm best management practices (BMPs). These practices control soil erosion, manage nutrients and protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The MACS 2007 annual report also is available on MDA's website.
Last November, MDA began increasing its efforts to make the public aware of the agency's regulatory activities on a routine basis. For more than 30 years, MDA has been protecting consumers and the environment and ensuring fairness in the marketplace through enforcement of the law. MDA strives for swift resolution to violations of the laws in the Agriculture Article and the deterrence of future violations by the regulated community.
Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA)