12/17/2011 10:00 AM
By Jennifer Hetrick Southeastern Pa. Correspondent
COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. — The Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission estimates that about 40,000 of the state’s farmers are not in compliance with state agricultural regulations, Gus Meyer, assistant manager of the Montgomery County Conservation District (MCCD), told people attending a workshop earlier this month.
Those regulations were updated in November 2010, and MCCD joined forces with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Montgomery County Penn State Extension to give farmers a better understanding of the new rules.
The bulk of regulations dating back to 1972 are still fully in order, Meyer said, but a few changes were added, such as incorporating Animal Heavy Use Areas (AHUAs) into a written conservation plan or agricultural erosion and sediment control plan for a farm.
The updated regulations also mandate that agriculturally used areas within 100 feet of any stream or substantial waterway have at least 25 percent plant cover, crop residue or other efforts of Best Management Practices (BMPs).
Meyer explained that AHUAs are any places outside of a barn, aside from pastures, where foot traffic of livestock can degrade the quality of the ground into an eventual state of erosion, keeping vegetation from easily growing.
“It may be in pastures but not the actual pastures,” Meyer said about AHUAs needing attention, as soil loss may be slow but has its unhealthy impacts on the land and also potentially any nearby water supply, especially if gullies are not controlled.
Exempt from AHUA-status are entrances, pathways and walkways from a barn.
A permanent 35-foot perennial vegetated buffer is allowable as a less lengthy setback, instead, from a stream or water supply, for cropping systems using manure.
Woody or herbaceous plants grown as a buffer are acceptable in any combination, to help keep manure from reaching nearby waters.
“We don’t expect to see these issues fixed overnight, but if you’re working with your conservation district, we’ll be happy if you’re showing steps toward voluntary compliance,” Meyer said.
“We need to do these regulations so that we don’t have more regulations in another 10 years,” he said. “You can think of some of these regulations as a part of your business plan, and buffers will be your friend, at the end of the day.”
Meyer also introduced the latest Pennsylvania Manure Management Manual, which is available online at http://panutrientmgmt.cas.psu.edu/.
“Timing is always an issue with cover crops, even here in Montgomery County,” Meyer said. “We generally have more time for that in this region, but again, it’s all about planning.”
David Schaffer, district conservationist with the NRCS in southeastern Pennsylvania, joined in by reminding farmers how the federal agency he represents exists to support farmers in preserving land healthily.
Schaffer told the workshop-goers how to find the NRCS’s Electronic Field Office Technical Guide (EFOTG) online, which details a comprehensive listing of conservation practices. But not all BMPs are technically conservation practices, he said.
Access control, cattle lanes, fencing, critical area planting, grazing management, tree plantings, prescribed grazing and stabilized stream crossings are a few methods that Schaffer mentioned for possible conservation and BMPs.
Bucks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Northampton counties have 297 BMPs projects scheduled for completion in 2012 with the NRCS, including financial incentives for each, Schaffer said.
With 92 active contracts in those four counties, involving 10,483 acres, $2.13 million is the total cost share. Schaffer said farmers involved with those contracts are probably spending about $500,000 to $1 million of their own money in these efforts.
To find out more, Schaffer suggested interested farmers call his office at 215-453-9527, ext. 3. Meyer can be reached at 610-489-4506, ext. 14
Andrew Frankenfield, agronomy educator for the Montgomery County Penn State Extension, introduced the audience to an online tool called PAOneStop, available at paonestop.org as a farm mapping and an agricultural erosion and sediment control planning system.
“It’s a full-out land development model designed for those in agriculture at all different levels,” Frankenfield said.
Although the online program is still a work in progress and has its imperfections in mapping and identifying exact routes of waterways, it still serves as a valuable tool for looking at an aerial view of land and designating necessary setbacks.
It also assists in finding exact acreage of fields, accounts for and identifies different soil types in the all areas of the state and offers nutrient balance suggestions according to the land’s needs, he said.
“If you want to do your own nutrient management plan or conservation plan down the road,” Frankenfield said,” this is a great tool for that.”