Today, I learned about the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the USEPA plan to reduce nonpoint source pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past year, I have heard numerous speakers tell me that Illinois agriculture needs to follow the voluntary Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) otherwise we will have regulations like the Chesapeake Bay. Also, I have heard numerous farmers comment that they will not adopt these practices till they "have to". Well, we might want to rethink that approach.
I must admit that up until today, I really did understand all the requirements that farmers and agriculture must follow in Maryland. This state has the highest percentage of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Maryland's new nutrient management rules went into effect on June 8, 2015. These regulations affect everyone who uses fertilizers – organic or inorganic – to include homeowner, lawn care professionals, farmers and agricultural consultants. These are complex, detailed rules and the recordkeeping is not simple.
For instance, these regulations have "blackout dates" when fertilizers cannot be applied. For example in Maryland, fertilizer applications are restricted from November 16 until February 28. This is one of the easiest regulations to follow.
In addition, every farm (with a gross income of $2500 or more) must file an approved nutrient management plan for each field in the farm. These plans can only be written by a certified nutrient consultant or a "certified" farmer. These plans depending upon their soil nutrient levels will be good for up to three years, before they must be resubmitted. To be certified, a consultant must pass a Nutrient Management Certification Exam and consultants are encouraged to attend a two-day training. If certified, a consultant must take 12 hours of continuing education classes every three years. For a farmer to write a nutrient management plan for their farm and fields, they must attend a two-day training and certification.
After your farm's Nutrient Management Plans are approved that is just the beginning, if you live in this watershed. Every year, you must submit Annual Implementation Reports documenting how you have implemented your plans during the previous year. Plus, you are required to soil test every field at least once every three years and if you use manure it must be analyzed at least once every other year. Fertilizer and manure application recordkeeping is required for each field and in the required record format. All nitrogen applications in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are expected to be split applications not a single application. In addition, there are nutrient guidelines for all crops and I mean everything even down to specific vegetables and nursery crops.
If you have a surface water body in a field or running through a field, you have setback requirements for the application of fertilizer and manure. These setbacks have to be documented and the setback is determined by your specific fertilizer (manure) application method.
I really do understand that these are difficult economic times for farmers and that adding a new crop nutrient management strategy, such as cover crops may seem like an impossible task. This is especially true, when farmers are trying to figure out how to make a living with relatively high input costs and low crop prices.
However as I learned today, the time and effort required by Maryland farmers to implement and document the nutrient loss reduction strategies that they "have to" do is a major undertaking. Not to mention the new crop management strategies they "have to" use on their fields.Please consider taking advantage of the nutrient management cost-share programs available from the USDA to start the process of nutrient loss reduction on your farm. I really hope Illinois agriculture and farmers can show the regulators that we "will do" what is necessary.