Now that they're required, fewer nutrient plans filed

March 06, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Fewer farmers are filing plans to minimize fertilizer runoff now that the state has made it mandatory, an administration official told lawmakers Tuesday.

Four years ago, when nutrient management plans were still voluntary, 1.3 million acres of farmland were covered, Joseph Bryce, the governor's legislative liaison, told a state Senate committee Tuesday.

By the time a Dec. 31 deadline for the plans rolled around, 1.1 million acres of farmland were either enrolled in the program or were in the process of being enrolled, he said.

"Somehow we've lost 200,000 acres," he told the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Bryce testified against a bill that would give farmers two more years to meet the deadline.

Just like many people wait until April 15 to file their taxes, farmers will wait until the last possible day to file the plans, he said.


Although the administration doesn't want to extend the deadline for farm runoff regulations, it doesn't oppose other parts of the bill aimed at simplifying the rules, he said.

Among the proposed changes:

- Allow farmers to write their own nutrient management plans instead of relying on the extension service or private consultants.

- Identify their farms using either Property Tax ID numbers or Farm Service Agency numbers.

- Submit their plans on March 1 instead of Dec. 30 to coincide with the spring planting schedule.

- Have access to the same computer software as certified planners.

The farm runoff regulations were approved in 1998 as a response to an outbreak of pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay.

Farmers testified that the state takes months to review their plans.

Bryce said there are only three people at the Maryland Department of Agriculture working on the plans.

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