When It Comes to Nutrients, Farmers Need a Plan

12/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

GRANTVILLE, Pa. — Despite all the progress in conservation that farmers have made over the past 20 years, they still find themselves with an uncomfortable distinction. In 2012, they were the leading source of water pollution, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inspection of farms in Lancaster County’s Watson Run watershed, where, beginning in 2009, the EPA found that most farms were out of compliance either by not having manure management or erosion and sediment plans, or by not following the plans they did have, the state has stepped up its efforts to correct the problem.

“The take-home message is this, all farms are regulated. They are covered by Chapter 102 (agricultural erosion and sediment regulations) and manure management,” said Steve Taglang of the state DEP.

He and Mark Goodson of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service talked about farm regulatory requirements on Tuesday as part of the Keystone Crops Conference at the Holiday Inn in Grantville.

Taglang said there are no statistics for the number of farms that are not complying with manure management or Chapter 102, but “it’s not the 90 percent rate we would like it to be.”

During its inspections in Watson Run, the EPA found that 75 percent of the farms did not have any form of plans. By law, farms must have an agricultural erosion and sediment plan if they have an animal heavy-use area, or agricultural plowing or tilling.

All farms need the minimum of a manure management plan, which can be developed with the Pennsylvania Manure Management Manual. The manual includes guidelines as well as worksheets for farmers to document manure handling, storage and spreading procedures. Taglang said this includes horse operations.

Farms that have a certified nutrient management plan or comply with regulations for concentrated animal operations or concentrated animal feeding operations also meet manure management requirements.

The rules for CAOs and CAFOs have been on the books for at least 30 years, but the Manure Management Manual was recently updated to make it more user-friendly.

The plan needs to include general information about the farm, manure application rates and locations, farm maps, record keeping, manure storage and stockpiling, pasture management, and animal concentration areas.

The plan does not have to be written by a certified planner, but it will require some time to work through if a farmer decides to prepare his own , said Goodson, who suggested that certified crop advisers can play a proactive role in assisting farmers with plan development. CCAs have a working relationship with their farmer clients and understand the farming operation, he said.

Why should farmers get their plans in order? DEP could come knocking to review the paperwork.

Taglang said DEP has stepped up its farm inspections. In the past year and a half, more than 100 enforcement actions, many resulting in fines, have taken place.

Fines are levied after several visits to a farm and the continued failure to correct the cited issues.

DEP has hired four additional employees to help step up farm enforcement efforts and recently conducted inspections on farms in Mifflin County. The agency will return in the next couple of weeks for follow-up inspections.

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