Just when Virginia farmers thought they had a handle on the Chesapeake Bay restoration issue along came some changes to the nutrient management planning model from the EPA, and when applied to county and local areas, these changes are forcing farmers to ask the all too common question: What next?

Katie Frazier, who took over as Executive Director of the Virginia Grain Growers Association in 2011, says when she took the job she was convinced by the end of the year grain farmers in Virginia would have a clear understanding of exactly what they needed to do to comply with EPA guidelines for nutrient management.

In December of 2010, the EPA approved the final TDML, or total daily maximum load for discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from farmland into streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Based on these guidelines, Virginia began holding local meetings to determine how each county or municipality would best comply.

When applied at the local level, some significant abnormalities began to show up.

For example, in some cases farmers who met TDML by using best management practices and a nutrient management plan agreed to by the EPA were not only not given credit for these practices, but in some cases were penalized for using them.

“I don’t understand, I think most farmers don’t understand exactly how or why EPA made these changes to the Nutrient Management Model,” Frazier says.

“One of the major problems with these changes for Virginia’s row crop farmers is the loss of nutrient credit. After the changes were made, about 50 percent of Virginia farmland that was targeted for the nutrient management plan to meet the state’s allocation for discharge into the Chesapeake Bay was re-classified as receiving negative credit for having a nutrient management plan in place,” she explains.

The rationale from EPA’s new Bay Model was that having a nutrient management plan would put more nutrients on the land based on having a plan. Therefore, the individual farmer would receive negative credit for doing what they were asked to do to meet the nutrient model guidelines set forth in the EPA’s December 2010 plan for total daily nutrient load into streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is totally backwards to what most farmers consider to be the impact of using best management practices to implement a nutrient management plan. It just doesn’t make much sense to farmers,” Frazier says.

Confusion is not a new state of mind for Virginia growers over the whole issue of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration. Since the Federal government took over implementation of the Chesapeake Bay restoration, there have been conflicting messages at to what is expected of farmers to meet these guidelines.