New state nutrient management regulations could have an adverse effect on farmers throughout Maryland, if they're upheld by a review committee.
The Joint Committee on Administrative Executive and Legislative Review met Tuesday in Annapolis to look over the regulations approved by the Maryland General Assembly during this past legislative session.
The regulations will govern when farmers can spread manure on their fields and require them to keep livestock away from streams. Harford County farmers have long opposed both for their intrusiveness and the cost involved.
It is the state's hope that the new regulations will help Maryland meet nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals and restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Sen. Barry Glassman, a Republican who represents northern Harford District 35, said he feels the short notice of the hearing is "disrespectful" to the agricultural industry and is "disappointed" that it was not postponed to a day and time that didn't conflict with a farmer's schedule.
Furthermore, Glassman believes the new regulations will affect an already hurting farming industry.
"We're fighting an uphill battle, unfortunately," Glassman said Monday.
The senator, whose district includes thousands of acres of crop and livestock farms, described the regulations as "part of this overall pollution diet that the feds [federal government] have pushed down to the state."
Glassman explained that two of the regulations deal with stream fencing and, what he called, "time of spreading prohibition."
If the committee upholds the regulations, farms will need to have a fence at least 10 feet away from surface water to keep out livestock.
In addition, Glassman said there would be a "time of spreading prohibition," which means during certain times in the fall and winter a farmer will not be allowed to spread manure and must store it on-site.
"Regardless of what kind of site they [the farmers] have, they'll have to basically build storage facilities," the senator said. "And this is where they [the regulations] will impact the counties."
He added there are some exceptions for dairy farmers.
Glassman also commented on the lack of notice for Tuesday's hearing in Annapolis.
"For something this major, it just seems disrespectful to the industry," he said.
"The Joint Committee on Administrative Executive & Legislative Review, (AELR), sent the July 10, 2 p.m. hearing notice on June 29 before the July holiday week," a press release from Glassman's office sent Monday read. "Glassman alerted the Democratic leadership of the short notice, and the fact that the timing was right during a dairy farmer's evening milking, notwithstanding the travel time to Annapolis."
There was also a public meeting Tuesday night at Harford Community College by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
On Wednesday, Glassman wrote in an e-mail that both meetings "went pretty well."
"We had close to 150 farmers at [the] HCC meeting," he noted. "I think we made some headway with the Department of Agriculture to pull the mandatory [regulations] in lieu of working in a collaborative way on new best management practices the way we have done in the past to achieve all of our reduction goals."
Henry Holloway, owner of The Mill in Bel Air, said: "If the nutrient management regulations stand as they are or they become more stringent it will hasten the exodus of livestock and dairy animals from the state."
The businessman admitted that farming isn't his livelihood, but more of a hobby he's passionate about. His family, however, has been in the farming business for hundreds of years.
"I'm not going to invest the money it will take to put permanent fencing in to put cattle out of the steams," he said. "I'm just going to sell them."
Holloway said providing other water for the cattle and fencing them in would cost him around $20,000.
"Farmers doing it for a profit are going to be in the same situation and they will sell their cattle. I know they will," he said.
Other farmers saw the regulations coming, Holloway added.
He said one farmer in Darlington who raised cattle sold them and is going into harvesting corn and soybeans.
This is the direction Holloway thinks many farmers will take if the review committee upholds the regulations, which would actually be good for his business.
"I've have the opportunity to sell more products to people raising corn and soybeans rather than cattle," he said. "And I've raised beef cattle all of my life."
An article written by Buddy Hance, secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and published in The Baltimore Sun states: "The regulations provide an exception for incorporating manure for hay and pastures acres, no till, or highly erodible conditions and allow spray irrigation of nutrients on existing crops and allow winter grazing of livestock."
The article continued: "The regulations allow for fall fertilization of small grain crops depending on soil test to evaluate residual nitrogen. This is based on four years of University of Maryland field research replicated in three locations across the state that demonstrates fall fertilizer is not cost effective in increasing yields."
Hance goes on to write that Soil Conservation District staff will evaluate sites "to allow for the use of alternative best management practices, such as stream crossings, alternate watering facilities, pasture management or vegetative exclusion that are equally protective of water quality."
"The goal of the process is to achieve consistency in the way all sources of nutrients are managed," the article read. "These draft regulations strike a balance between maximizing water quality benefits and practical needs of implementing requirements in the field and assuring economic impacts are manageable."