Maryland is now completing the “tributary strategies” — the state’s plan to reduce nutrients flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Culmination of this process is the result of more than a year’s hard work by citizens, agencies, and elected officials. I am proud to say that farmers have demonstrated their commitment to this effort through their active and constructive participation in countless workshops and meetings across the state.

Problems in each of the tributaries have been described and analyzed. Now we get down to the tough part — selecting specific actions to reach the 40 percent nutrient reduction goal of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Draft strategies will be reviewed at public meetings in each of the 10 tributary basins during late April and May. Later this summer, the implementation phase will begin with consideration of the strategies by the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council.

The following guidelines can help assure continued partnership with Maryland agriculture as the tributary strategies are developed.

  • The tributary strategies should be “user friendly.” They must be based on education and cooperation, not regulation. Maryland farmers are leading the nation in environmentally sound farming practices which for the most part, have been implemented voluntarily. Most of us who remain in farming today have learned that good agriculture, by definition, protects our natural resources and the environment. Environmental stewardship is an ethic that in most cases can not be legislated. Voluntary programs win converts who will go beyond requirements. Mandates get only what the law requires.
  • The tributary strategies must be credible. Although most would agree that we’re on the right track with reducing Bay nutrients, we can’t be afraid to reexamine assumptions which have been accepted as “scientific facts.” As recently as the late 1970s, many scientists believed that herbicides were the primary cause for the disappearance of Bay grasses. Subsequent studies proved otherwise. Scientists now recognize that the most recent, comprehensive study of Bay pollution — the $20 million 1982 Chesapeake Bay Study — greatly underestimated atmospheric sources of nitrogen which could account for as much as 30 pounds per acre per year. Important research now being conducted at the University of Maryland’s Wye River Research and Education Center is identifying new, more effective agricultural practices to reduce nutrient leaching into the Bay while we keep farmers farming. Credible tributary strategies need to be based on the best science available and recognize that science is still defining and redefining what farmers, homeowners, industry, government, and the rest of society need to do to help the Bay.
  • They should be equitable. Maryland farmers are recognized nationally for their use of environmentally responsible farming practices. A recent survey documents that Maryland farmers are among the highest, or leading the nation in their use of soil and water conservation plans, nutrient management plans, and “no till” farming — practices which conserve nutrients and reduce water pollution. Unfortunately, these practices and the extent to which they are being used are not recognized by many non-farmers. An equitable tributary strategy will recognize what farmers are doing right and that nutrients come from a number of sources, not just agriculture. For instance, Maryland Farm Bureau recently documented 1.2 million pounds of nitrogen used as deicer during this winter. This originated from only two fertilizer suppliers and three airports and is equal to 5.2 percent of Maryland’s nutrient reduction prescribed by the Bay Agreement. Maryland farmers are already doing a lot for the Bay. If the strategies are realistic, credible, and equitable, farmers will do more. Maryland farmers are, and want to be, a part of the solution, but we are not all of the problem.