Agricultural Certainty Bill Important to Farming Community

A May 27 Frederick News-Post article discusses key agricultural legislation that passed during the 2013 Session, including legislation (SB 1029) designed to provide protection to qualifying farms from future regulatory changes based on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

SB 1029 — the Maryland Agricultural Certainty Program — establishes a voluntary program to accelerate the implementation of best management practices to meet the state’s agricultural nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reduction goals.

The bill creates an opportunity for farms to be exempt for 10 years from any new regulations created for Maryland to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Improvement Program and Total Maximum Daily Load — the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards, said Frederick County Agriculture Development Specialist Colby Ferguson, who was instrumental in crafting the bills.

“It is no secret that the current requirements continue to change as the data becomes more detailed,” Ferguson said. “This (bill) will allow farmers to be exempt from these ongoing changes as the water improvement program requirements continue to change.”

As previously reported by Conduit Street, the bill initially raised some concerns.  However, the bill ultimately passed with amendments designed to strengthen the qualifying requirements and oversight of those farms that choose to participate in the program.  MACo did not take a position on the bill but did raise concerns about counties receiving sufficient information about farms that participate in the programs to manage their own TMDL plans.  In response to MACo concerns, the Maryland Department of Agriculture sent a letter to MACo, pledging to work with the counties to ensure that they receive the necessary level of information about participating farms.  Additionally, the Department initially estimated in the letter that only between 25 and 50 farms will qualify for the program.

The News-Post article notes that the farming community is very supportive of SB 1029:

The leadership in Annapolis recognized the hard work of farmers around the state to improve water quality, said Frederick County Farm Bureau President Charles Brault.

“This bill will provide participating farms with appropriate protections from the vicissitudes of the EPA’s Water Improvement Program,” Brault said.  …

MDA Secretary Buddy Hance joined the farmers in welcoming the new law.

“I congratulate Gov. (Martin) O’Malley and members of the General Assembly for working together to create a program that will help Maryland meet the goals of our Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan while providing farmers an opportunity to conduct their business in a predictable regulatory setting,” Hance said in a statement.

The article also mentions HB 230, which allows farms to have their beer brewed and bottled by a mirco-brewery instead of having to get permits to brew the beer at the farm.