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MDA proposes changes to nutrient management regs

Proposed changes to Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations were submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) for review on May 22, announced Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. Following months of negotiations with stakeholder groups, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has finalized its new rules for the use of manure, biosolids and other organic nutrient sources on crop fields. The goal of the process is to achieve consistency in the way all sources of nutrients are managed. Once the proposed changes are published in the Maryland Register, MDA will provide public notice and offer a 45-day public comment period.
In crafting the nutrient management regulations, Maryland has considered recommendations of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s BayStat Science Panel as well as concerns raised by environmental, agricultural and municipal stakeholders.  
“The revised regulations strike a balance between maximizing water quality benefits, addressing the practical needs of implementing requirements in the field, and assuring economic impacts are manageable,” said Secretary Hance. “When taken as a whole, the revised regulations will advance agricultural water quality management far beyond any efforts existing in other jurisdictions.”  
Ultimately, the new regulations are designed to help Maryland meet nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals spelled out in its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. Once approved, the proposed changes will be included in MDA’s Nutrient Management Manual. Following are key features of the new regulations:  
• Beginning July 1, 2016, nutrient applications will be prohibited between Nov. 1 and March 1 for Eastern Shore farmers and between Nov. 15 and March 1 for Western Shore farmers.   
• Organic nutrients will need to be incorporated into the soil within 48 hours of application.
• Farmers will be required to plant cover crops when they use organic nutrient sources in the fall.
• Beginning 2014, farmers will be required to establish a 10- to 35-foot “no fertilizer application zone” adjacent to surface water and streams.
• Beginning 2014, farmers will be required to protect streams from livestock traffic by providing fencing or approved alternative best management practices.
• Fall fertilizer applications for small grains will be limited.  
•  Guidance and clarification is provided on the use of soil amendments and soil conditioners.
“The implementation schedule addresses a major stakeholder concern and should provide farmers and local governments with adequate time to comply with the new regulations and to apply for cost-share funding to install additional best management practices,” said Hance. “The O’Malley Administration is committed to providing farmers with the critical financial resources necessary to meet our shared environmental goals.”
The Nutrient Management Advisory Committee has been working on the revised regulations for more than a year.  The new rules were originally introduced last fall; however, due to overwhelming feedback O’Malley asked that the proposed regulations be placed on hold to provide an additional opportunity for stakeholders to further discuss the proposal.  
If the AELR Committee does not delay the proposed regulatory changes, they will be published in the Maryland Register for a 45-day public comment period. After the comment period closes, MDA will review any comments. If MDA makes substantive changes as a result of the public comment, the revised regulations will be resubmitted to the AELR and the Maryland Register.
Established in 1998 to develop and refine regulations and requirements for Maryland's Nutrient Management Program, the 16-member Nutrient Management Advisory Committee includes representatives from the USDA, MDA, University of Maryland, Maryland departments of the Environment and Natural Resources, Maryland Farm Bureau, Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, commercial lawn care companies, the biosolids industry, as well as local governments and the state legislature.
A summary of the MDA’s proposed changes submitted to AELR is available online at: www.mda.maryland.gov/pdf/proposednmregs2.pdf.