Unless farmers do more to help clean up the Bay — and soon — Maryland may have to resort to mandatory programs to get farmers to adopt runoff control practices on their land, Gov. William Donald Schaefer warned recently.
In the past, Schaefer has always supported a voluntary approach to controlling farm runoff, but in comments to members of the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the governor said he was not satisfied with the progress that has been made.
“I was advised a couple of years ago to go with volunteerism and I did because I believe in asking a person to help out; I believe in volunteering to meet the standards that are so necessary,” Schaefer said. “But when you’re not doing it — and I’m sure most all the farmers here are because you’re the good ones — then we’ve got to take some other measures.”
Agricultural runoff is a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Bay. The Pennsylvania General Assembly last year passed a bill that requires the largest farms to adopt nutrient management plans which give farmers guidance — based on local soil conditions and the crops being grown — on how to apply manure and other fertilizers to fields in ways that minimize runoff. In Maryland, state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, (D-Anne Arundel), for the third time has introduced legislation that would establish a mandatory program.
Maryland agriculture officials, though, continue to express optimism that they can achieve a 40 percent reduction in nutrient runoff from farms by encouraging farmers to voluntarily adopt practices that help stem runoff.
Schaefer said he would not support mandatory measures this year. But the governor, who leaves office next January, said such action should be considered by his successor. “I wish I was going to be here next year because I would do it next year,” Schaefer said. “I would do it unless there was greater progress being made as far as all of us are concerned —
not only you, but everyone else — to keep the pressure on reducing nitrogen and phosphorus.”
Schaefer said he hoped his successor is “as tough as I am, and I hope he understands the importance of the Chesapeake Bay and what it means. You just don’t throw millions and millions of dollars into the Bay and not be making the progress that we should be making.”
In an interview, Winegrad said mandatory measures are needed to back up the voluntary approach because the state Department of Agriculture is far short of its goal of having nutrient management plans in place on 800,000 acres of the state’s 2.2 million acres of farmland in 1995.
“They’re at about 14 percent of total farmland, and the 1995 goal is only a year away,” Winegrad said. “The question any person of common sense would have to ask is, how are they going to hit 800,000 by the year 1995?”
The department, Winegrad said, has neither adequate money nor personnel to help farmers develop the plans, and farmers have been given little incentive to do so on their own.
His legislation would bolster the voluntary program by mandating the nutrient management plans for all farmers that receive state cost-share money or agricultural preservation money if the department falls short of its goal. The requirements would be phased in, with the larger farmers that pose the greatest risk to waterways having to develop plans first, and smaller farmers getting more time. All would have to develop the plans by 2000, the date by which the Bay states have pledged to reduce nutrient runoff to the Bay by 40 percent.
“I think the governor sees that this is a real problem,” Winegrad said. “That’s why he spoke that way.”
But state agricultural officials contend they are on target to meet their objectives. “We don’t have any problem with where we are,” said Rona Flagle, department spokesperson. “Our projections look like 790,000 acres for 1995.”
Figures in an unpublished department report indicate that by the end of 1993, the number of acres covered by nutrient management plans had increased to 332,036. But that number probably undercounts the acreage involved, she said. The department in the past year has worked to begin certifying private consultants to help develop nutrient management plans for farmers.
The 1993 figures included reports from only 15 of the 122 people certified last year, she said. As more people are certified to develop plans, Flagle said, the department anticipates faster growth in the acreage under nutrient management.
“A large part of what we’re looking at achieving is having the private nutrient management consultants,” she said.
The department plans to have nutrient management plans for 1.3 million acres by the end of 1997, and for all farms by 2000.