Md. Ag Certainty Committee Gets to Work

7/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Janice F. Booth Maryland Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — This past spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill establishing the Maryland Agricultural Certainty Program to encourage Maryland farmers to voluntarily meet water quality goals ahead of the 2025 deadline for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or Total Maximum Daily Load.

To facilitate the engagement of farmers and other stakeholders, the legislation also authorized the creation of an Agricultural Certainty Oversight Committee to help develop regulations, oversee the integrity of those regulations and evaluate the program.

Tuesday was the committee’s first meeting at the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the meeting room was packed with interested parties.

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance selected the 15 members of the committee and has indicated that additional representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the USDA may be added.

Current members include farmers from both eastern and western Maryland along with representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Cecil County Farm Bureau, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the University of Maryland, among others.

Hance wasted no time getting to work. After a brief welcome, he introduced two colleagues from the Department of Agriculture, John Rhoderick, administrator of resource conservation operations and Susan Payne, coordinator of nutrient calculations.

Rhoderick and Payne presented an overview of the tools available to farmers to establish best management practices most appropriate to their farms for achieving nutrient run-off limitations and water quality goals.

The advantage for farmers who voluntarily participate in the program is the assurance of “flexibility” if and when additional pollution regulations are put in place. Farmers who participate in the Agricultural Certainty Program will be assisted in implementing advanced best management practices and when a farm achieves full compliance with the regulations, that farm will be monitored for sustained compliance, but free from additional regulations for 10 years.

Rhoderick pointed out that Maryland’s Nutrient Tracking Tool is being adopted to build a uniform tool for evaluating nutrient management throughout the country. He noted, for example, that 47 years of weather information has been loaded into the program to calculate nutrient residual loads and baselines for the TMDL.

In mapping the watershed’s sediment runoff potential, the program identifies 58 sub-allocation segments to provide discrete information for farmers.

Committee members did not sit passively by. They were quick to question the tool and probed the statistics and calculations used to set up the data. Rhoderick offered to set up a demonstration in real time for the committee’s next meeting.

Assurances were asked for and given that the calculations tool being reviewed by Rhoderick would provide the farmer with information on alternative buffers to mitigate perceived nutrient runoff problems, posing solutions as well as identifying problems.

“The members of the oversight committee are proven experts and dedicated environmental and agricultural professionals who will bring a vast array of perspectives and experience to the important task before us,” Hance said.

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