‘Getting ahead of the game’ key to farming in Chesapeake Bay region

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The Chesapeake Bay region has captured a lot of attention from federal and state regulators because 1) it is near the nation’s capital and 2) it’s the largest estuary in North America. Farming in the region can be challenging, but Maryland farmers are learning to cope with being in the nation’s fish bowl. Trey Hill discussed those challenges and opportunities in a presentation to the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers in Reno, Nev.

Hill is a fourth generation farmer who grows corn, wheat and soybeans around Rock Hall on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. What many don’t understand, he says, is that farmers in Maryland have been dealing with state mandates aimed at protecting the Bay for years. Under the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998, farmers are required to have nutrient management plans – 99.5 percent have them – and they are limited on the amount of phosphorus they can apply on their land.

“Maryland farmers cannot exceed the University of Maryland’s fertility recommendations, and our nitrogen recommendations are based on yield goals; you can apply a pound of N per expected bushel of yield,” he says. “If soil test P is above 150 FIV (ppm Mehlich 3 P), no phosphorus may be applied unless the P site index is used. We are required to submit annual implementation reports, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture inspects 8 percent to 10 percent of farm operations annually.

“We do other proactive things. The Maryland Farm Bureau, the Grain Producers, the United Soybean Growers, the Corn Growers are all active in trying to establish policies that will help farmers stay profitable and still maintain some control over what they’re doing. It takes a lot of time in order to do all of that.”

One of the problems Hill has encountered is that regulators often don’t realize the seasonality of agriculture. They may ask to come to his farm and conduct an audit in April, for example. “That is not a good time for me, and it’s difficult sometimes for people to realize how farmers may be spending 100 hours per week trying to get everything done when they have a 9 to 5 job.”

Hill spends a lot of his off-season time attending farm and regulatory meetings to try to keep up with the regulatory changes. He also makes time to talk to organizations, particularly those with little or no farm membership, to try to help them understand what he does as a farmer.

He listed a series of steps producers can take to become “tuned in” to environmental issues:

  1. Be prepared and advocate for yourself
  2. Establish NOW complete reporting system to track paid practices, expired practices and voluntary practices.
  3. Consider initiating voluntary programs, such as nutrient management planning, so you determine the framework should they become mandatory.
  4. Get involved, be proactive, review any established goals to ensure they are doable.
  5. Ramp up environmental policy efforts – especially at state level.

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