Hance addresses MDA nutrient management policy for delegates

Managing Editor

OCEAN CITY, Md. (Dec. 11, 2012) — Without a prepared speech, Maryland Agriculture Secretary Earl F. “Buddy” Hance took the podium at last week’s Maryland Farm Bureau annual convention to update delegates on the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
“I didn’t have anything prepared because I read my Delmarva Farmer and read that I wasn’t going to be here,” Hance said, referring to articles detailing a proposed resolution from the Kent County Farm Bureau to deny any MDA official from speaking at the convention.
The proposal came out of frustration that in issuing final revisions to the state’s nutrient management guidelines, very few changes were made after a public comment period during which many farmers called the revisions unreasonable.
Initially, Hance joked about the proposed measure, which failed to move any further than the county level, saying he’s had MDA staffers watching Kent County delegates while at the convention and carried a pair of wooden yardsticks with him as a means of protection.
Hance went on to highlight some of MDA’s achievements including the passing of the Family Farm Preservation Act which excludes the value of agricultural property up to $5 million from a Maryland estate tax, hiring more soil conservation technicians throughout the state, the upcoming filming of a public television series on farming in Maryland and an all-time record cover crop sign-up of more than 605,000 acres statewide, “a level that several years ago we thought we’d never get to.”
The buy-local movement continues to grow by “leaps and bounds” and along those lines, the state’s kickoff of the Ice Cream Trail including seven on farm creameries has been “hugely successful.”
Hance said the department is working through clarifying language in its cost share contracts so it cannot be used against a farmer in court.
The issue arose from the federal trial involving poultry grower Alan Hudson and the Waterkeeper Alliance where the lawyers for Waterkeeper used Hudson’s cost share contracts as evidence that Hudson polluted as stream along the edge of his farm.
“You do not admit that you’re a polluter to get the money” for cost share projects, he said.
But then Hance returned to the nutrient management issue and his comments on the matter became serious, if not personal.
“You don’t like them. I don’t like them any more than you do,” he said of the revised guidelines. “I don’t need a resolution to tell me you don’t like them.”
Hance said while few changes were made after a second comment period, many changes were made in the year prior and most because of input from farmers.
Changes included the determination of what streams would need vegetative buffers around them, the requirement of fencing animals from streams could be overturned by local soil conservation officials upon a site visit that deemed it unnecessary and removing the requirement to incorporate manure spread on slopes and highly erodible land.
Also, the revised guidelines did not define incorporation, Hance said, leaving it up each farmer to use the method that best fits his or her operation.
Hance said revisions were necessary both as a periodic update to include new technology and data and to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandated pollution reduction target for the Chesapeake Bay.
He said the measures Maryland farmers have already taken to reduce pollution has shrunk the “window of opportunity” for farmers to keep improving.
“I can’t send in a plan that says we’re just going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing,” Hance said. “We’re (in) Maryland. We are surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay. That’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.
“Our impact is much greater in their eyes.”
He pledged to keep fighting for assistance for farmers to meet he pollution reduction goals.
“As long as I’m there, we’re going to get you all the resources we can to make sure you can do what you need to do.”
Wrapping up his impromptu address, Hance told the more than 250 delegates gathered that while he serves at the pleasure of the governor, he won’t stay at his post without the support of the state’s farm community and Farm Bureau.
“If Pat (Langenfelder, MFB president) calls me and says this organization has lost faith in me then I’m gone,” Hance, himself a past president of Maryland Farm Bureau, said. “For me it’s personal.”