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From the Manure Editor: July-August 2016

Maryland’s manure storage woes


 

Government officials in Maryland are looking at easing winter manure spreading regulations after a group of farmers and municipal wastewater treatment facilities complained they couldn’t meet the July 1 deadline.

Back in 2012, Maryland passed a rule banning the spread of manure and biosolids during the winter months. Considering poultry farmers in the state have faced a winter litter spreading ban for years and are not required to build lagoons or special storage facilities to stockpile litter, the new regulation really only affected dairy and hog producers. As a result, farmers and sewage facilities were forced to look at expanding their storages to accommodate manure or sludge until the spring – an expensive undertaking. Large operations were given four years to meet the deadline (July 1, 2016) while smaller ones have until 2020 to comply. It seems now that the deadline has come and gone, not everyone can meet the new requirements. According to some media reports, about 80 dairy farms out of the state’s 431 operations have not yet complied with the new regulation, while 58 have built storages since 2012 and 14 projects are currently underway.

During a recent meeting of Maryland’s nutrient management advisory committee, state agricultural officials announced they were considering easing the rules, including shortening the start of the winter spreading ban so it begins Dec. 15, dropping the requirement that manure and/or biosolids must be worked into the soil when applied, and eliminating a ban on emergency spreading. The only addition to the regulation would be a required 100-foot setback from streams and drainage ditches.

While some of these changes just seem to make sense – heck, why start a winter spreading ban on Nov. 1 in Maryland when restrictions in Wisconsin and Minnesota don’t start until mid-December? – it’s no surprise not everyone is in love with them. According to a report in the Bay Journal, a member of the audience, who was also a representative with the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, said the regulation had been messed with enough. “It’s not all about making it easier for farmers,” he’s quoted as stating. “It’s also about protecting our environment.”

With farmers already facing tight profit margins and dairy producers wrestling with reduced milk prices, it can be tough to find an extra $100,000 to $500,000 to finance additional manure storage, even over a four year time period. And, based on comments in the local media, cost-sharing programs are hard to come by or qualify for.

I’ve always been a big fan of the carrot approach instead of being beaten about the head with more and more regulations and red tape. Every day, I’m inundated with new information regarding legislation and rules livestock producers are facing across North America. It’s impossible to keep up, especially when it seems like they’re all overlapping and doubling up on requirements. It’s refreshing when government listens to feedback from the industry and is willing to bend the rules to accommodate those struggling to meet them. It will be interesting to see whether these changes actually make it through to the final regulation. Hopefully Maryland farmers will know before winter comes again.