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Posted at 7:05 PM ET, 03/ 8/2010

Maryland makes gains for the Chesapeake Bay

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Earl F. Hance
Annapolis

David A. Fahrenthold’s March 1 front-page story, “Rising with a bullet among top pollutants: Number Two,” missed an important point. Maryland, perhaps unlike states in other areas of the country, has the laws, science and technology in place to address land application and alternative uses of manure. In addition, recent documentation by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s BayStat initiative shows that agricultural impacts on water quality are declining.

Appropriate manure application to fields is regulated under the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. Today, 99.5 percent of farmers have the nutrient-management plans that are required by law. Enforcement actions are underway for the 12 farmers who are out of compliance and for any who are found to be not adhering to their plan.

Nationally recognized experts at the University of Maryland and elsewhere provide the scientific research and agronomic basis for manure applications to land. The soil conservation districts in each county help farmers apply these technologies and best-management practices. In addition, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has transported almost 600,000 tons of manure from areas with soil that doesn’t need more nutrients to those that can use it.

The private sector is stepping in with new ways to use manure through projects such as Perdue’s organic fertilizer pellet plant. Companies and governments will soon be able to buy nutrient credits from farms that have done more than required to reduce nutrients.
BayStat is proving that efforts by farmers, researchers and other technical experts to reduce the impact of manure from Maryland farms are paying off.

The writer is Maryland’s secretary of agriculture.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | March 8, 2010; 7:05 PM ET
Categories:  Chesapeake Bay, HotTopic, Maryland  
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Comments

My name is Drew Koslow and I am your Choptank Riverkeeper. Over the past year I have taken my time to learn as much about agriculture and the issues surrounding agricultural runoff as I could.

I have read a number of scientific papers and spoken to a number of farmers and others interested in agriculture and conservation. Our goal is to both promote agriculture and to promote a healthy Chesapeake Bay because our land is connected to our water. The way we live on the land directly impacts what happens in the water.

I would like very much to believe Secretary Hance when he states that Baystat is proving that changes in practices are making a difference but frankly I would like to see his data before I agree. Baystat doesn't prove anything, it only makes a statement. Scientific data is how we prove that change is effective.

Gregory McCarty and other well respected scientists recently published a paper titled "An Overview of the Choptank River Conservation Effectiveness Assessment Project." (CEAP) This paper concluded that "Extensive implantation of cover crops and other conservation practices will be required before observable improvements in water quality will be achieved."

I am curious as to how Secretary Hance and MDA are measuring the changes they claim on BayStat.

The CEAP program has been ongoing for several years. These scientists have measured changes in nutrient levels being applied and in water leaving farms that have implemented conservation practices. And after years of this research they found that nutrient loading from these farms stopped increasing when many practices were used in concert.

Nutrient loading from Agriculture is directly related to pounds of fertilizer applied to crop minus the amount actually used by crops. Corn, for example, is only able to use about 30% of the nutrients applied to it. The rest of it is available to be carried into groundwater or local tributaries, or to be taken up by cover crops. Interestingly, Inorganic nitrogen applications have increased dramatically since 1945. In 1945 Delmarva farmers applied roughly 12 million pounds of inorganic nitrogen to their crops. By 2000 that amount had climbed to 150 million pounds. The way we live on the land directly effects the waters around us.

Cover crops and other conservation practices offer proven tools to reduce nutrient loading to local waterways. Unfortunately, these practices are optional, farmers have the choice to use them or not to.

Lets all work together in a transparent way to ensure that conservation practices are applied wherever and whenever possible, that opportunities for new crops like switch grass are explored to the extent possible, and that we base our political decisions on sound science and not from statements made on a web site.

~Drew Koslow
St. Michaels, MD

Posted by: fishhawk7 | March 9, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I guess Mr. Hance isn't aware that Maryland just eased the rules for developers concerning runoff. So much for the Bay.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 10, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

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