Within the past few weeks, agriculture has seen some major wins in Washington. The 2018 Farm Bill was passed in the House and Senate, and has now been signed by President Trump. Prior to that, a trade agreement had been arranged between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico – just in time for harvest when farmers are looking for a market to sell their product.
One of the major wins for America’s farmers and ranchers has proved to be quite controversial, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a new Clean Water rule, which would rescind the 2015 “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule under the Clean Water Act.
The 2015 rule never went into effect nationwide because of several court rulings that deemed it unconstitutional. A lack of clarity in the rule made it difficult for farmers and ranchers to know what they could or could not do on their land. Under the 2015 rule, flooded farmland in Maryland from the torrential rain we received this year could have been subject to federal oversight. A team of lawyers, environmental engineers, and consultants would have been needed to ensure we were farming in accordance with the law.
While this new rule relieves the burden of wondering if a sometimes-there, sometimes-gone swale, ditch, or pond on a farm is federally regulated, our commitment to conservation and improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay has not wavered.
IMPROVEMENTS IN THE
In Maryland, local and state regulations already dictate much of what farmers can and cannot do on their property. Currently, more than 827,000 acres of farmland are in compliance with nutrient management regulations that identify nutrient needs on our crop and pasture fields. These plans are required for every agricultural operation in the state and must be renewed every 3 years, however most are updated annually.
In accordance with state and federal Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) rules, poultry producers have been implementing practices that ensure absolutely no poultry waste enters the Bay. With over 303.5 million birds produced annually, that’s no easy feat!
Our farmers have a vested interest in the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the health of our communities. That’s why we have been participating in voluntary Best Management Practices (BMPs) for over 30 years now – far before the time the 2015 WOTUS was proposed.
We are proud to say that we have 924,000 acres under a Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plan. These plans address natural resource management on agricultural lands and utilize experts to identify BMPs that would be most effective on that particular parcel of land. From planting cover crops that reduce soil erosion to transporting manure for alternative uses, the work of our farmers has removed approximately 3.5 million pounds of nitrogen and 142 thousand pounds of phosphorus from the Chesapeake Bay in a single year.
In addition, agriculture has served as one of the largest sectors to make reductions in nutrient run-off in the Bay according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Through our hard work and perseverance, we’ve seen positive changes in the Bay. Earlier this year, a research study credited nutrient reductions – particularly from agriculture – with the “unprecedented” return of underwater grasses in the watershed.
Experts in the field say we are at the positive tipping point of seeing amazing changes in Bay health. Doug Myers, Maryland Senior Scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, compared it to adding drops to a pool to see when it’s clean. The practices we’re putting into place are the drops, and we’re so close to seeing huge results.
ENGAGED AND COMMITTED
TO THE FUTURE
Farmers have never stood idle on the sidelines and waited for change. We know that the work is not done yet. We are committed to preserving and protecting the Bay, which is why we remain active and engaged in discussions related to Bay cleanup.
Just this summer, the Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors met with Cosmo Servidio, the EPA’s Region 3 Administrator, to discuss the next phase of the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) and the impact it would have on farmers in the state. Servidio praised the Board members in the room saying farmers “truly are the first environmentalists.” An open-door policy was established between the agriculture sector and the EPA.
Phase 3 of the WIP has been a concern for farmers in Maryland as government agencies work to develop the next steps needed to reach our 2025 goal. To ensure the next phase is both practical and economically feasible, agriculturalists have been actively involved in WIP planning meetings across the state.
With our farmers so involved with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup process, other states have looked to Maryland for the information and resources used to achieve higher water quality and environmental health. We hosted the Ohio Farm Bureau Board of Directors over the summer to discuss agricultural conservation practices that could be implemented to address Great Lake issues. After a panel discussion held at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Board members traveled to a nearby farm to see these practices in action. We are also working with Pennsylvania and Iowa to identify BMPs that could be beneficial in those states.
Thanks to increased funding and flexibility in the recently signed 2018 Farm Bill, farmers in Maryland and across the country will have greater access to conservation resources. The bill also includes a new water quality initiative. It was an honor to represent Northeast agriculture at the White House signing ceremony, along with other Farm Bureau leaders.
MARYLAND IS OUR HOME
As you can see, Maryland farmers have been very busy over the last 30 years working to protect a true state treasure because we understand the importance of preserving our natural resources. Most of our farms have been passed down through multiple generations, and we are hoping to continue the tradition and legacy by passing them down to our own children. Just like you, Maryland is our home.
As we continue to work to decrease nutrient loads to the Bay to meet our 2025 cleanup goal, we thank the Hogan administration and the Maryland General Assembly for their continued support of Maryland agriculture. The work of our Governor and legislators has provided invaluable resources and funding needed to implement BMPs on many acres of farmland, while still making it feasible to continue putting food on the table.
We support the clarity the proposed new Clean Water rule brings, but we also know nothing is going to change. We are just as dedicated and committed to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts as we were prior to the WOTUS discussion.
Chuck Fry is the president of the Maryland Farm Bureau and serves on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s executive committee. He is a dairy and grain farmer in Frederick County and owns and operates Rocky Point Creamery.