Partnerships on Susquehanna County Farm Advance

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Fencing cattle out of streams is critical for both water quality and the cattle themselves. Photo by BJ Small/CBF Staff.

Beef cattle lounge in the shaded corner of a trampled barnyard near fencing that shields fresh grass and a newly-planted swath of seedlings on both sides of the narrow creek. Up the slope and north of the barn, workers hammer away at the framework for the concrete of a manure storage area. Orange flagging marks parameters of a new, adjacent concrete barnyard.

The Bennett farm on Toad Hollow Road, near Montrose, Susquehanna County, is a hub of activity by local, state and federal partnerships intent on improving farm efficiency, maintaining the health of the herd, and protecting the water quality of Roe Creek that ambles through the property.

Less than a year after fencing was installed and trees were planted in the spring, progress is easy to see. "The stream banks will show the most immediate improvement," Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration specialist Jennifer Johns said. "Beef cattle, weighing an average of 1,500 pounds can do substantial damage to the banks. Their exclusion alone will decrease sediment loss significantly."

Claude Bennett, now 80, ran the farm starting in 1953. He bought it in 1964 when he was told the only way he could get a loan to put an addition onto the barn, was to own it. He milked cows on it until 1984. His son, Terry, has taken over daily operations of the 240-acre property and is actively participating in restoration. Today the farm grows mostly hay, and sells only a few cows.

"We're doing this to keep the streams clean and keep the nitrogen back out of the streams," Terry Bennett said of the fencing. "People look at it and say 'why did you fence the creek?' We did it to keep the cattle back away from the creek."

Forested buffers, like the one along Roe Creek, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, Pennsylvania's most problematic pollutants, before they can run off into waters like Roe Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

CBF assisted with the planting 1,400 trees and shrubs on 12 acres, creating forested buffers along the creek and on a hillside. Funding came from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year.

The Bennett project also qualified for CBF's Buffer Bonus program and a Growing Greener grazing grant, which earned it $27,500 to go toward the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the barnyard and grazing practices that are not cost shared. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance and is funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CBF, Pheasants Forever, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), USDA, and Susquehanna County Conservation District joined forces to provide technical and financial support.

CBF collaborated with DEP on installation of more than 7,700 feet of fencing to keep the 80 cows and 30 calves out of 77 acres that includes the creek and woodlots.

"Funding sources come and go, but ambitious counties work collaboratively with their partners to piecemeal and piggyback available programs to make the projects workable and affordable," Jennifer Johns added. "Partnering with agencies like the local conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, NRCS, and DEP is critical and just makes sense. So many successful projects would not have been completed without these valued and essential partners."

Runoff of nutrients and sediment, particularly from agriculture, is the largest source of impairment to Pennsylvania waterways. Best Management Practices (BMPs) like those at the Bennett farm advance efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution and meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The Blueprint includes science-based limits on the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. It also includes Pennsylvania's plans to achieve those limits and a commitment to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success. The Commonwealth must have 60 percent of its practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.

Pennsylvania must continue to move forward in its commitment to reduce pollution by implementing BMPs like those on the Bennett farm. Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


When They're Debating the Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can't Forget Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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A boy takes a dip in a creek near Lightstreet, PA. Photo by Michelle Yost.

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, wanted to know how the Wolf administration plans to meet Pennsylvania's obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 11, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to "reboot" efforts on behalf of the Bay.

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth's water quality commitments.

Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Wolf and legislators to honor the Commonwealth's commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.

The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.

By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place.

Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania's efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas—agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.

But Pennsylvania's deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania's farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that. But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.

In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth's rivers, streams, and the Bay. But on average, it's also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.

Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.

A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction.

But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.

Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania's clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.

It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.

In his inquiry, Everett asked why Wolf's proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses.

At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked the same question.

While Pennsylvania's leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.

This is simply unacceptable. We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania's farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.  

Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.

Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint. 

Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts.

There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the clean-up goals. Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.

CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to clean water.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


Talbot County Should Fund Ditch Project

The following first appeared in the Star Democrat.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

The Talbot County Council has been presented a golden opportunity. Other local governments would be green with envy at such a gift.

Talbot has been offered the chance to significantly reduce pollution to local creeks and rivers at a cut-rate price. In the expensive world of Chesapeake Bay restoration, it's like winning the lottery.

We urge the county council to take advantage of this opportunity.

The gift-horse in this case is a proposal to convert roadside ditches in the county into pollution filters. Talbot has about 370 miles of county roads that are lined by such trenches. They channel rain water from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks and rivers. The trouble is that runoff in these ditches also contains lots of pollution—oil, exhaust particles, fertilizer, and manure.

The county engineer has proposed a solution—one already proven in other areas of the country. Ditches could be modified slightly to soak up pollution before it reaches the creeks. This is low-tech, common sense, high-efficiency innovation. It's the kind of ingenuity for which Americans were once famous, farmers especially.

Maybe that's why Talbot farmers such as John Swaine, chairman of the board of supervisors at the Talbot Soil Conservation District, are in support of the proposal.

The ditch work would be focused on stretches of ditches where pollution is worst, making the strategy all the more cost effective.

There are several techniques available to turn the ditches into filters. One popular one used widely in agricultural ditches in the Midwest is to enlarge the ditch just enough so runoff has more space and time to soak into the ground. The county, along with The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working on pilot projects to ensure this "two-stage ditch" technology and other similar approaches would work here.

The price to convert 150 of the most polluted ditches would be about $3 million—paid for in small increments over 30 years.

That's a bargain compared to many other strategies to clean up local water. For example, the price tag for upgrading the Easton sewage plant in 2007 was about $40 million. And polluted runoff is a particularly expensive type of pollution to reduce using traditional methods. But under the ditch program, county staff estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved over conventional techniques, reducing costs an estimated 90 percent.

The ditch program also could create jobs—for engineers, heavy equipment operators, and laborers.

Given all this you'd think the Talbot County Council would be embracing the proposal whole-heartedly. It's the kind of smart investment any smart businessman would recognize. But the council has not revealed its position.

The council's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released on April 14. Whether or not that budget will illustrate a firm commitment to cleaning up Talbot's polluted rivers is uncertain. We can only hope the council isn't penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Talbot council rejects the ditch program, the hundreds of miles of trenches will remain a problem. They will continue to sluice pollution straight into our local waters where we swim, where crabs and oysters try to survive.

We hope the council sees the wisdom of spending smart now in order to save money long term.

With rivers such as the Choptank getting more polluted, it's time for action in Talbot County. The ditch program not only is cost effective, it's inspiring. It will provide an example to other communities around Eastern Shore and throughout the region. On the Shore we have plenty of ditches, but too often a shortage of political will to act for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!


Inside CBF: Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller

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Pollution from agriculture continues to be the largest source of pollution to the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love. It is also the most cost-effective to clean up, and the sector on which the Chesapeake's states are relying on most to achieve their Clean Water Blueprint-reduction goalsNow more than ever, it is critical to understand how healthy farming practices are intrinsically tied to a healthy Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it. As such we revisit a summer's day last year, when we got to visit with and learn from CBF's Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Read on . . .   

It's a particularly steamy early Friday morning on CBF's Clagett Farm. The cows are testy, lined up, and waiting expectantly when Farm Manager Michael Heller and I pull up in his '96 Ford Ranger, windows down, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture on the radio drifting across the fields on warm June air. The minute they see Heller, the cows are especially vocal. The herd of Red Angus and Red Devon are anxious to move on to the next field for grazing, occasionally nudging Heller with their noses as they pass. "Our cows are very gentle," says Heller with pride.

DSC_0045Besides providing affection, the cows do wonders for the soil and as Heller says, "Building soil quality is probably the single most important thing to improving water quality." As soon as Heller started at Clagett in 1982, he was determined to use truly sustainable farming methods to make a healthier, more productive farm starting with the soil. "From day one I have not used pesticides," says Heller. "I didn't want them for my children; I didn't want them for the students coming out here. There were just so many reasons not to use them . . . when that's you're starting point, you have to be ecological in how you do things." So the plant ecology major cultivated fields of orchard grass, timothy, clover, hairy vetch, and other diverse plant species that never have to be tilled, therefore they protect the ground, soak up nutrients, build the soil, and improve water quality.      

"The beauty of working on the farm here is it directly affects water quality and the Bay," says Heller, "but also it allows me and CBF to get a real perspective of what farmers need to be successful. Because we don't want to make farmers unsuccessful; we want to help farmers be successful and protect the Bay."

It was only natural that Heller wound up at Clagett. The Pennsylvania native grew up working on the farm next door, bird watching with his mother, and tending his garden: "My friends used to joke that I was the only high school quarterback with a wildflower garden."

DSC_0013After stints at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the University of Maryland, the avid environmentalist got a call from CBF asking him to run its newly acquired Clagett Farm. Here he would not only manage the 285-acre farm but run the education program and write grants. "It was a wonderfully impossible job," says Heller with a glowing enthusiasm, "and here 30 years later, the learning curve keeps going up and up . . . I still feel like I'm just getting started!"

We might argue otherwise considering Heller's substantial contributions to the farming and environmental communities thus far. He was instrumental in starting both Future Harvest, a regional sustainable agriculture organization, and Maryland Grazer's Network, a mentorship program where farmers learn from other farmers about successful and sustainable farming practices. In his downtime, Heller co-authored a cookbook about grass-fed beef, started Clagett's CSA (in which 40 percent of each year's harvest is donated to the Capital Area Food Bank), became a Johns Hopkins visiting scholar, raised three bright children, and spent as much time as possible either on a tractor or in a canoe. "I love to hang out in a canoe. I'm never happier than when I'm in a canoe, in a marsh, listening to marsh wrens and bitterns and rails calling." 

When asked why it's so important for future generations to come out and get a taste of Clagett Farm, Heller doesn't take long to answer: "I just know that my kids are different for having grown up on a farm. I wish every kid could grow up on a farm. When students come out here, they always work a little bit . . . I think they see that there's a tangible result to work. And they get a real sense of a connection between the land and what's happening in the water."

—Photos and Text by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms in our Farmers' Success Stories series. 


Gardening and the Bay: A Future in the Making

Lindsay Bushong, a junior at Drexel University, shares her story of encountering a love for gardening, and the role CBF played along the way.

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Some of the Backyard Beds in Philadelphia, PA

In high school, I took a half day field trip with CBF. I had a blast and when they talked about the summer programs they offered, I knew I had to go. Fast forward a year and I'm two days into a week long adventure down the James River in Virginia. We did various things to learn about the Bay, digging in the detritus, not leaving any trace at our campsites, going to leadership workshops. However, what I remember most is our visit first to a large organic farm, and then to a smaller, urban garden in Richmond. I grew up in a really rural community, but had never seen an organic garden to the scale of the one we visiting in Virginia. There was a beautiful rainwater catchment system and rows upon rows of lush, gorgeous veggies. In the city, we learned about the benefits of having nature in an urban setting, how its good for both people and the environment. While I didn't realize it then, the idea of the "triple bottom line benefit" would follow me to Philadelphia.

I recently began my own social entrepreneurship project, Backyard Beds. Backyard Beds came into fruition for a number of reasons. Having moved to the city from an agricultural community, I was astounded at the lack of fresh food in my neighborhood. Through my academic studies I began to learn about food deserts and food insecurity, which really sparked my interest. My freshman year I worked on an urban farm, and this experience seemed tie together all my passions into one amazing social venture. Through professors, mentors and classmates, I soon found myself managing a small garden only a few blocks from my house at The Dornsife Center. While gardening there, I got to meet a lot of amazing people, but most importantly, I got to meet Mantua (my neighborhood) area residents. These are long-term residents. One afternoon a neighbor was asking how she could build her own raised garden beds, I immediately offered to help, and thus Backyard Beds was born from this interaction.

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Harvested radishes from backyard beds

Our seed funding came from a fellowship with The Resolution Project, an amazing organization helping young people start really cool projects around the world. In the summer of 2013 we built five gardens for five families. Not only are these gardens beautiful and relaxing, but they provide practically free fresh, local produce. Something most Mantua area residents lack. The gardens also decrease stormwater runoff and the heat island effect. We hope to create a small food distribution competent to the project that helps move the food more efficiently around the neighborhood.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been pivotal in my growth and development. I would have never discovered my passion and interests without my experiences in and around the Bay. This project has brought my studies and experiences full circle, giving me the opportunity to create real, meaningful change. In high school, after I got back from I trip I knew I wanted to start a little organic garden. CBF helped me do this, leading to me earning a Certificate of Environmental Leadership. The ways in which CBF facilitate and support students are incredible, and I wish every student could take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer.


Don't Backtrack on the Bay

The following first appeared in the Center Maryland.

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A group of more than 200 gathered February 24 in Annapolis at the Rally for Clean Water. Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

Is there a way for Gov. Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to find common ground on two controversial environmental issues this year—reducing pollution from excess manure in rural areas, and reducing polluted runoff in urban and suburban parts of the state?

We certainly hope so. Maryland is counting on these two major clean-up measures to continue our progress toward restoring the Chesapeake and our local creeks and rivers.

And while we encourage across-the-aisle problem solving, we at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will fight forcefully to ensure whatever bills emerge during this legislative session, or whatever regulations are put forth by the Hogan Administration, are strong enough to do the job. Watered-down measures won't get us clean water.

Recent assessments of the Bay's health have found significantly less pollution entering the Maryland part of the Bay, thanks in large part to upgrades at the state's major sewage plants. Marylanders paid for those upgrades and the millions of pounds of reduced pollution they brought through the so-called 'flush fee.'

Now we need to upgrade our stormwater systems. In the Greater Baltimore-D.C. area this is the next major source of water pollution in many creeks and rivers. It's weed-killer, pet waste, oil and other contaminants that wash off the landscape after a storm. It's such a problem that the Maryland Department of the Environment warns Marylanders not to swim in any creeks, stream, river or the Bay for 48 hours after a good summer thunderstorm.

And we need farmers on the Eastern Shore and our rural areas to help by applying the correct amount of manure on crop fields. Currently, about 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied, and phosphorus in the manure ends up in nearby creeks and rivers, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Phosphorus is a major cause of the ‘dead zones' of low oxygen that afflict Eastern Shore rivers such as the Choptank each summer, as well as the Bay at large. A tool developed over 10 years by the University of Maryland would enable farmers to determine the correct amount of manure to apply as fertilizer, without hurting the environment.

Governor Hogan pulled regulations proposed by the O'Malley Administration to address the manure crisis, and on Feb. 23 announced alternative regulations. Thankfully, those regulations recognize the necessity of regulating with the tool, but they include loopholes that allow for potentially indefinite delays of implementation. We cannot accept that. We support, instead, a legislative fix to the manure crisis, SB 257 and HB 381. Those cross-filed bills already represent considerable compromise between environmentalists and agricultural interests, allowing a six-year phase-in of the tool.

CBF also opposes any bills that purport to solve the problem of polluted runoff, without requiring local, dedicated funding. Reducing this type of pollution is expensive work. For decades, Maryland's most populated counties and Baltimore City have been required by state law to adequately fund this work, but they haven't. The General Assembly tried to fix that in 2012 by requiring these 10 populated jurisdictions to collect a dedicated fee. We oppose any attempt to repeal that law, or bills that would merely bring us back to a failed past. We've heard the promises before. We need accountability.

We hope in the coming weeks the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration can work together to forge collaborative, but effective solutions to these issues. Our measure of success cannot be simply that we passed legislation or enacted regulation. Our yardstick of success must be clean water.   

The public demands nothing less. Over 200 people took time off from jobs and families recently to attend a Rally for Clean Water 2015 on Lawyer's Mall. Over 20,000 "Don't Backtrack on the Bay" messages have been sent to Governor Hogan and legislators. When county leaders in Harford held a public hearing to consider repealing the county's polluted runoff fee, residents spoke out for the fee, against a repeal. These are just some of the signs of the public's desire for forceful action.

People understand that cleaner water will bring stronger communities and greater economic prosperity, just as a tide uplifts all boats. Requiring farmers to apply only the necessary amount of manure on fields, for instance, can actually improve the farmer's bottom line in the long run. Various technologies and industries are emerging that can use excess manure, or the phosphorus it contains, for alternative uses. The farmer can profit from doing the right thing.

History will record whether this governor and this General Assembly kept us on track to a healthier Chesapeake Bay. To all lawmakers, we say: Don't Backtrack on the Bay.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Take action now to remind Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.


Why Anglers Should Support Maryland’s Phosphorus Management Tool

MapPhosphorus is at the center of a big fight right now between Governor Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly.

The Governor, his administration, the farm community, the members of the House and Senate, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation all acknowledge the solid scientific evidence that phosphorus runoff pollution from spreading manure on farm fields is a problem for the Chesapeake. Despite strong efforts by sewage treatment plant upgrades and many farmers, phosphorus pollution is not yet declining in Maryland’s Eastern Shore rivers. In fact, it is actually increasing in the Choptank, causing more damage to this important waterway.

The issue is the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), developed over 10 years by Bay and agriculture scientists from the University of Maryland to help farmers precisely manage the way they fertilize their crop fields. The farm community participated actively in the development of this innovative tool. Regulations putting it to work would have gone into effect at the beginning of February.

But Gov. Hogan, at the request of the Maryland Farm Bureau and other organizations, pulled the plug on the PMT shortly after his inauguration, saying he wanted to “hit the pause button” to seek more input from farmers. Shortly after, concerned members of the General Assembly filed House and Senate bills to convert the PMT regulations into legislation. Just before House and Senate hearings on the PMT bills, Hogan issued his own Maryland Agricultural Phosphorus Initiative 2015

It is good that he acted, but his Phosphorus Initiative offers loopholes and even more delay. Here is what the Baltimore Sun had to say in its editorial response, "Stand Firm on Phosphorus": "the new rules offer too many off-ramps to divert the cause, particularly a provision that gives the state agriculture department broad authority to postpone their implementation as officials see fit." It's high time we deal directly with the problem of phosphorus runoff pollution in our rivers and Bay. Anglers can help a lot by asking their elected officials to get on with the job. 

But isn't this whole PMT campaign singling out family farms unfairly?
No. Many Chesapeake watershed farmers are making heroic efforts to reduce their impacts on streams, rivers, and the Bay. Just click here to read about the good work that some farmers are doing for their farms and local waterways. Agriculture, if managed well, reduces runoff pollution at very low cost. The problem is that agriculture covers 25 percent of the land in the watershed or 8.5 million acres (note map above). Look especially at the proportion of Maryland's Eastern Shore that is growing crops and poultry. That huge acreage is why agriculture keeps coming up as the leading cause of the Chesapeake's ills. Our Bay and its rivers and streams need nearly ALL of the watershed’s 87,000 farmers to exercise Conservation Best Management Practices. 

We depend on Maryland farms for the food that fuels our bodies every day. But, note the comparative cost figures in the Sun editorial: "...the financial cost [of the PMT] is somewhere in the neighborhood of $22.5 million . . . Eastern Shore poultry producers spend more on advertising. Maryland's annual seafood catch is worth more than that despite its pollution-related declines of the last several decades. And Maryland's boating industry alone is worth about 100 times that. So exactly who should be doing the compromising?"  

Now look at The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake. The Bay watershed is a tremendous economic asset, but it's under severe pressure from us humans and our needs for food, transportation, and housing. Maryland cannot afford an either/or choice between vibrant agriculture and a healthy Chesapeake. We must find ways to have both. Farmers who have already installed Conservation Best Management Practices are showing the way, in teamwork with state and federal agencies, agricultural and Bay scientists, and businesses looking at new ways to use excess phosphorus.

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There is real win/win opportunity here, but getting there will grow more difficult and expensive the longer we wait. It's time for everyone who has a stake in a healthy Bay, especially anglers and seafood harvesters, to urge Gov. Hogan and the General Assembly to reach agreement on this "PMT Pause" and then move quickly to put it to work. 

Every angler and waterman from the Sassafras to the Pocomoke, and all of the rest of us who love those waters, must tell our elected officials that we want SOLUTIONS to the problem of farmland soils oversaturated with phosphorus. Click here to take action now!

Remember: The Chesapeake’s fish and crabs need clean water. And they are essential to prosperous communities in Maryland. We need BOTH healthy waterways and strong agriculture. It’s time to get to work and figure out how! 

John Page Williams, CBF’s Senior Naturalist 


Let’s Follow Arkansas’, Oklahoma’s Lead in Controlling Phosphorus

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

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Approximately 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied annually on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Photo courtesy iStock.

On the U.S. farm, necessity has always been the mother of invention. Maybe that's part of the reason the poultry industry along the Arkansas and Oklahoma border has been able to reduce by 75 percent the amount of chicken manure it applies on farm fields in one watershed area.

Necessity in that case was a 2001 court case filed by the city of Tulsa against six poultry companies, upstream municipalities and others. The case, ultimately settled in 2003, claimed excess poultry manure was contaminating city drinking water drawn from the Eucha/Spavinaw watershed. Finding that there were not adequate provisions in statute or regulation, the judge set a limit on soil phosphorus above which no more manure could be applied.

Maryland could learn something from those states. We can achieve all our goals. We can require our chicken growers on the Eastern Shore to reduce the amount of excess manure they apply to crop fields, and we can do it without putting farmers out of business or forcing the poultry industry to flee the region. We can come together to tackle this problem. We don't need a judge, but we need a nudge. We need legislation to prompt action.

For the past few years, Maryland chicken growers have been concerned by the prospect of the regulatory tool known as the Phosphorus Management Tool. The tool is a method developed over 10 years by University of Maryland agriculture scientists that allows farmers to assess the level of phosphorus in their soils so that they can apply the correct and safe amount of manure to their fields.

Maryland wanted to require farmers to use the tool because excess manure application on the Shore causes the same problem in the Choptank, Nanticoke and the Chesapeake as it does in the Eucha/Spavinaw watershed: eutrophication, or slow death, of the water system from lack of oxygen. But the opposition claimed to anyone who would listen that the regulation would cost too much to implement, and that the large poultry companies would up and leave the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan listened. Just hours after taking office, he pulled the regulation before it went into effect. Now the General Assembly is considering a proposed bill that would accomplish the same thing as the shelved regulation.

How unfortunate. We know we need less manure applied to Eastern Shore fields. The Maryland Department of Agriculture estimates 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied each year on the Shore. You might say it's a manure crisis. That's the necessity that should be driving invention. With the phosphorus tool in place, we could move on to finding cost-efficient ways to reduce manure application. Instead, we're back at square one, essentially quibbling over the measuring cup we'll use to bake a cake. With no regulatory option, we must rely on a legislative one.

The good news is that there is such an option. Legislation now before the General Assembly, SB 257 and HB 381, provides six years for us to work out a means to bake that cake. Arkansas and Oklahoma effectively did it in four years. The Western states worked out a plan to truck excess manure out of Eucha/Spavinaw to areas in need of manure.

This is not to say trucking manure out of your watershed is a magic bullet solution. Maryland already redistributes some excess litter, although not nearly enough. The point is the Western states worked out a viable solution without crippling the farming industry. The right amount of manure is now spread on fields. The poultry companies were an integral part of the solution. They should be in Maryland, as well, where the solution could include increased manure redistribution and the widespread use of technologies that extract and use the phosphorus for various purposes.

In fact, we're in far better shape than Arkansas and Oklahoma were at this stage of the game. We have the measuring tool for phosphorus. We don't need a judge to set application limits. Hogan has put funding in his budget that can help with implementation. What we need is legislation. Arkansas and Oklahoma learned that sometimes we all need a push to do the right thing. Years of failed attempts at a voluntary, collaborative solution prompted Tulsa to file its lawsuit. Necessity resulted. Innovation followed. We can do this.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Remind Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.


Governor Hogan, Don't Backtrack on the Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in The Hill on Saturday.

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Agricultural runoff is the largest single source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Photo by Miguel Angel de la Cueva/iLCP.

Hours after delivering his inaugural address, Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) had his staff pull the plug on a common sense, science-based solution to a poultry manure crisis on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where factory chicken farming is big business. 

Agriculture is the largest single source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, especially fertilizer and manure. As part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to finish restoring the Bay, states in the watershed pledged to reduce agricultural pollution, substantially.

As if those two facts aren't reason enough to accelerate clean-up efforts in agriculture, here's another. It's far less expensive to stop pollution from farms than any other major source, including sewage plants, cars and paved landscapes. Despite this, Hogan has killed proposed regulations that would have cut farm pollution significantly to Maryland creeks and rivers and the Bay.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture estimates that about 228,000 tons of excess chicken manure is being applied annually to the fields of the Eastern Shore. It's not intentional. Farmers use an outdated scientific tool for determining the right amount of manure. So farmers clean out their chicken houses and apply the poultry litter on nearby fields as fertilizer - at legal but excessive levels. The result of the excess manure in Maryland is glaring. Other agricultural states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, have updated their phosphorus limits for manure application.

The list of polluted Eastern Shore waterways includes the Chester, Choptank, Transquaking, Nanticoke, Sassafras, Manokin, Pocomoke and Wicomico rivers. About 80 percent of the phosphorus pollution fouling those rivers comes from agriculture, and much of it is from excess chicken manure applied to fields. When it rains, the phosphorus washes into nearby creeks or leaches out of the fields.
When phosphorus gets in the water, it stimulates massive outbreaks of algae, starting a chain reaction that results in dead zones of low oxygen and a crippled seafood industry. Excess manure also can make Eastern Shore swimming areas unsafe.

Agricultural scientists at the University of Maryland came up with a solution to the manure crisis on the Shore. They developed a Phosphorus Management Tool or PMT that farmers could use to determine the right amount of phosphorus-rich poultry manure to be applied to their crop fields. Former Gov. O'Malley (D) proposed that farmers be required to use the tool if they use chicken manure on their fields. That was the regulation killed by Hogan.

The PMT manure solution would not only clean up Eastern Shore creeks and rivers but it also would serve farmers. Phosphorus is a valuable commodity in many parts of the world. Innovative industries are waiting in the wings to pay farmers for their excess phosphorus. New manure regulations would be phased in over years by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and implementation would be subsidized by the state.

Farmers with excess manure may have to truck some to other areas where fields aren't saturated or to private facilities that turn poultry manure into energy, fertilizer pellets or other products. Some farmers may have to buy commercial fertilizer to replace the nitrogen from the manure or use mixed-species cover crops to add nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil. Department of Agriculture officials said the agency could help pay for these costs. Or maybe the big poultry companies should help their contract growers comply.

What's not to like? Local creeks and rivers of the Eastern Shore would get cleaner. So would the Chesapeake Bay. Swimming areas that once were off-limits would be safe again. Crabs, fish and oysters would rebound. Watermen would go back to work. Many farmers would sell excess phosphorus to the private market.

Unfortunately, Governor Hogan got bad information on this issue. Lobbyists for Maryland agriculture claimed these regulations would harm the Eastern Shore. They also said the new rule was a last-minute effort, even though it was years in the making, frequently delayed by the same lobbyists. It's the same old story. Industry fights science. Yet time and time again we have seen that reasonable regulations stimulate our economy. Smart companies see them as opportunities, not obstacles.

Governor Hogan, please don't backtrack on the Bay.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that we can't backtrack on the Bay! Remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.


Get Down to Earth on Fighting Phosphorus Pollution—Just Use a Soil Test

The following was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

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A CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, on the Eastern Shore

Maryland's newly elected governor, Larry Hogan, recently repealed the state's Department of Agriculture's Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulation. His act made me gnash my teeth.

Farmers and legislators on the Eastern Shore had begged him to repeal the regulation because it would have forced many of them to cease applying phosphorus-laden poultry litter to soils already saturated with the nutrient.

Those farmers would instead be forced to use commercial fertilizer with no phosphorus and balance nutrient application with crop needs.

Decades of repeated animal manure applications have overloaded many fields with phosphorus in the Bay watershed, including the Eastern Shore. There is so much phosphorus in these soils that it is polluting surrounding streams and the Chesapeake.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 75–100 percent of the soil tests conducted on farm fields on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, parts of the Shenandoah Valley and the Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania, have "excessive or optimum levels" of phosphorus. Crops planted on these fields will not respond to additional inputs of phosphorus. Additional applications of phosphorus on these fields will leach into the groundwater or runoff and become a water pollutant causing algae blooms, dead zones and weakened aquatic ecosystems.

Society as whole is paying hundreds of millions of dollars for nutrient management practices on farms to correct these abuses, but we end up with little progress.

Our tax dollars pay for nutrient management plans and planners, the development of "phosphorus indexes," the PMT, cover crops and all sorts of fancy combinations of crop management techniques that look good on paper but in actuality do little to reduce excess nutrients in the water. The result is inflated or misleading numbers.

Why don't we use nutrient testing in the water to measure success instead of equating the development of a "plan" to a nutrient-reduction coefficient?

Survey after survey shows that people don't mind subsidizing farmers when they are doing things that improve natural resources. Personally, I loathe subsidizing farmers that continue to pollute even though the light of science is blazing in everyone's eyes — including theirs.

This scenario has been going on for decades all over the country where poor land-use practices pollute water and affect everything downstream. Science finds a solution — polluters whine and bellyache while politicians delay action. Science finds another solution but makes it more complicated — polluters whine and bellyache while politicians delay action. It's the endless-do-nothing loop. The result is more bureaucracy and paper work as well as inflated, valueless numbers that make us feel like progress is happening while in reality, only a snail's pace of incremental change occurs.

The housing bubble that created our most recent economic recession was caused by inflated values, lack of oversight and politicians not paying attention to sound management.

These same toxic principals — inflated values, lack of oversight and in the case of the PMT, a disregard for science — are causing a nutrient-reduction bubble in the Chesapeake watershed and beyond. In other words, we think we are reducing nutrients in the Bay but we really aren't.

The answer to this nutrient management problem is very simple and we could save millions of dollars doing it.

Use a soil test.

If the nutrient is already in the soil to feed the crop, don't apply more. Use the money from all the crazy, complicated formulas that documented the false reductions to move the nutrients to fields that could use it or transform it into something useful.

Phosphorus is a valuable nutrient that is needed worldwide. It is in short supply globally, and unlike nitrogen, cannot be manufactured. Conserving it and moving it to deficient areas makes sense. Manure transport and transformation programs need to be improved, verified and fully funded.

In the poultry industry, nearly all the birds raised in this country are owned by very large corporations. These big poultry companies, called integrators, bring the phosphorus in through feed they purchase from the mid-west. The farmer, who works under contract to the integrators, feeds it to the chickens.

But right now it's the farmer, who most likely took a loan out to build those poultry houses, who is left with the debt, any dead birds and the manure. It's an out-of balance scenario all the way around.

We are all to blame for this and there is something we can all do. Farmers need to fertilize according to a soil test; integrators need to take more ownership of the manure; scientists and environmentalists need to make solutions simpler; and politicians' actions need to act using science. I promise, if we can do this, society as whole will be willing to pay for it.

—Bobby Whitescarver

Tell Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that we can't backtrack on the Bay! Remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Robert Whitescarver is a farmer, certified nutrient management planner in Virginia and a retired district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He can be reached at bobby.whitescarver@gettingmoreontheground.com. 

Distributed by the Bay Journal News Service on 2/3/2015.