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The Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998

Farm Business Management Update, October 1998

By Jim Pease of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

After months of public controversy involving allegations that poultry litter applications were a contributing factor to pfiesteria outbreaks, the Maryland legislature passed the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 in the closing hours of the session. The bottom line of the statute is that all agricultural operations with gross income greater than $2,500 or sales of more than 8 animal units (one animal unit is roughly equal to 1,000 pounds live weight) must develop and implement a nitrogen-based and phosphorus-based nutrient management (NM) plan by a prescribed date.

Anyone who uses primarily chemical fertilizer must implement a nitrogen-based and phosphorus-based plan by the end of 2002. Those applying a substantial portion of their nutrients as sludge or animal manure must have implemented a nitrogen-based plan by the end of 2002, and a nitrogen-based and phosphorus-based plan by mid-2005.

Cost-share funds up to $3 per acre are available to farmers for purchasing nutrient management planning services. All plans and any revisions must be filed with the Md. Dept. of Agriculture (MDA) and are guarded by confidentiality strictures. On-farm evaluations of plan implementation can be conducted by MDA. MDA will notify individuals who do not submit plans by the required date, and the individual may be fined up to $250 for not developing a plan, plus up to $100 per violation for not implementing a plan, not to exceed $2,000 per year. Cost-share monies would also have to be repaid in case of violations. Penalties are all paid to the Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program, which provides cost-share funds for implementation of BMPs.

What will be implemented as a ëphosphorus-based' nutrient management plan is not yet clear. Three possible approaches include: 1) prohibit phosphorus applications on soil where soil tests indicate no further crop need for phosphorus (our equivalent of VALUES recommendations); 2) for certain soil test levels, allow applications up to crop removal levels, but prohibit applications above some critical level; and 3) use a site-specific phosphorus index, based on slope, runoff potential, proximity to surface water, soil phosphorus levels, and fertilizer/manure application methods to determine allowable applications relative to potential environmental impacts.

Other requirements are placed on nutrient applications. Anyone who applies nutrients for hire must either be a certified NM planner or work under the supervision of one. Farmers who apply nutrients to land they own or operate must complete a NM continuing education course every three years. MDA will organize or authorize these educational programs.

Other aspects of the Act cover many aspects of farm-level and regional-level nutrient management. By the end of 2000, all contract feed for poultry must include phytase or some other additive that reduces phosphorus "to the maximum extent that is commercially and biologically feasible." A pilot poultry litter transport program has been developed as a joint project between Maryland state government and the poultry processors, with half of the funding coming from each party. The program will provide cost-share up to $20 per ton to offset the cost of transporting and handling poultry litter from farms with a surplus. The goal is to remove 20 percent of the litter produced by the four lower Eastern Shore counties. MDA will establish a "dating" service linking farmers with surplus litter with nearby farmers who can use the nutrients. A $1.3 million fund has been established to provide support for research and development of technologies to reduce animal waste nutrient content or to develop alternative animal waste utilization processes. A state tax credit up to 50 percent of the cost of supplemental fertilizer (mostly nitrogen and potash), amounting to a maximum of $4,500 per year for up to 3 years, can be claimed by farmers whom MDA certifies have filed a NM plan, have additional nutrient costs, and are eligible for the specified credit. A person who buys litter spreading equipment with a calibrated spreading capacity of 1 ton per acre or who buys spreading equipment for solid or liquid livestock waste may deduct 100 percent of the purchase price in the year of purchase from their state taxable income. Fifteen additional staff are funded in the state's conservation districts. A cover crop program of $1.5 million has been targeted at the Eastern Shore counties, and $800,000 has been committed to agricultural research and education programs to help farmers to meet Water Quality Improvement Act requirements.

Specific regulations for the program are being developed. For further information, see for "A Citizen's Guide to the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998," from which this article draws extensively.

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