Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has proposed new nutrient management regulations to curb the amount of manure entering the Chesapeake Bay.
The state initially introduced its nutrient management regulations last year, but pulled back the document because of farmers’ concerns that it was too stringent and environmentalists’ worries that it didn’t go far enough. The new approach seeks to balance the concerns of both groups as well as those of water-quality scientists, who had advised the state on the best methods of reducing nitrogen.
The original proposal — to be implemented by 2016 — forbade any application of fertilizer between Nov. 15 and Feb. 28. It also said that farmers had to incorporate organic nutrients within 72 hours of application.
It limited the storage of manure to 120 days and called for a mandatory 10-foot setback area from waterways, which would have required farmers to fence cattle to keep them out of streams.
The new proposal sets Nov. 1 as the deadline for the application of organics on the Eastern Shore, but gives Western Maryland 15 extra days to apply fertilizer. Farmers would be able to apply fertilizer to grain crops if a soil test showed they needed to, but it would be commercially calibrated fertilizer instead of organic manure, which has a high concentration of phosphorus relative to its nitrogen content.
The new proposals also gives the farmers 48 hours, instead of 72, to make sure the crops are taking up the fertilizer. It gives farmers and soil conservation districts discretion on both the setbacks from streams for fences and the amount of time farmers can store manure and where they can store it.
The new regulations also specify that farmers will have to follow more stringent sewage sludge application rules.
The new law calls for the regulations to take affect by 2020 for small towns with small wastewater plants and farms with fewer than 50 animals. For the others, the regulations will take effect in four years.
The new regulations will be published in the Maryland Register in June and the public comment period extends until July 31.