Every farm in PA MUST have a plan to manage manure if manure is generated or land applied on the farm & a plan to manage soil erosion [if more than 5,000 sq. ft. of earth is disturbed, plowed, tilled(Including No-Till) or has an Animal Heavy Use Area of 5,000 sq. ft. or more] written, available on the farm, and implemented.
These regulations promote keeping soil & manure nutrients on your farm where they belong, rather than in the streams and the Chesapeake Bay where they disrupt the functions of these water bodies and the life they support. By keeping soil and manure nutrients on your farm, you are doing more than complying with "Mandates", you are improving the efficiency of your farm, protecting water quality, and building better soil for your crops and livestock.
On May 12, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13508 which directed the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. This has resulted in the establishment of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or “pollution limit” for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, the major pollutants that have caused water quality degradation in the Bay. The sources of these pollutants are varied and include wastewater treatment plants, urban/developed areas, stormwater runoff, onlot septic systems, agricultural runoff, and even deposition from air pollution. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established these pollution limits for all waters flowing directly into the Bay and mandated that all states in the Bay watershed use their regulatory powers to reduce pollutants entering via the upstream tributary streams within each state’s jurisdiction. Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), which was accepted by EPA at the end of 2010, states that 60% of all required pollution reduction measures will be in place by 2017, and the WIP will be 100% implemented by 2025. The increased regulatory emphasis that will result from implementation of the TMDL will affect each and every resident of the Bay watershed in some form or another in the not-too-distant future. But no segment of the Bay watershed population will feel the changes like the agricultural community.
Why is so much emphasis being placed on agriculture? Agriculture covers about 25% of the entire Bay watershed, with an estimated 87,000 farms covering about 8.5 million acres. Agriculture has been identified as the leading source of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the Bay. In Pennsylvania, it’s been estimated that 56% of the nitrogen load sent to the Bay comes from agricultural sources. But agriculture has also done more than any other source to reduce those pollutants. Over 80% of Pennsylvania’s total nitrogen load reductions achieved to date are the result of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs). In fact, 41% of all nitrogen reductions made by agriculture in the Bay watershed came from Pennsylvania’s farms. And serious questions have been raised about whether EPA has accounted for all the nutrient and sediment reduction measures agriculture has taken in their TMDL model, resulting in a lawsuit filed by both the American Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. But regardless of past accomplishments, agriculture is expected to do much more in the years ahead to help restore the Bay and its impaired tributary streams.
One of the strategies outlined in Pennsylvania’s WIP is to increase its compliance and enforcement efforts of existing environmental regulations, with “enhanced oversight” by EPA. This will ultimately result in more on-farm inspections by the regulating agencies, such as EPA and the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This initiative has already begun in Lancaster County, which isn’t surprising given the sheer volume of agriculture and the number of locally impaired streams in that area. Many ag producers are familiar with the EPA inspections that were conducted in the Watson Run watershed about a year ago. Almost all of the 24 farms visited had some violations, with the most common being failure to have a compliant Ag Erosion and Sediment Control Plan and a Manure Management Plan. Fortunately, the Lancaster County Conservation District was allowed to work with each farm to develop the required plans and implement the necessary BMPs to bring the farms into compliance, and no further enforcement actions have been taken to date. But farms in several other areas of that county are now under EPA’s scrutiny, and these efforts are only expected to increase. There is also good reason to believe that similar compliance efforts will begin in this area at some time in the future. Although water quality in local streams has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years as a result of conservation measures taken by local farmers, there are still a number of local waterways that are considered “impaired” by EPA and DEP because of nutrients and sediment from agricultural sources, such as the Upper Kishacoquillas Creek and Hungry Run watersheds. In fact, this area was named a priority watershed by the Chesapeake Bay Program because of nutrient loads delivered to local waterways and, ultimately, to the Bay. The good news is that this designation has resulted in more financial assistance targeted for ag BMP programs in our area through programs administered by USDA-NRCS and the Mifflin County Conservation District. The bad news is it has also put our area “on the radar screen” of environmental regulatory agencies such as DEP and EPA.
So what is expected of the average Mifflin County ag producer? The answer is to be in compliance with all relevant environmental laws and regulations. This basically means that ag producers are expected to follow the Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control regulations pertaining to tillage and Animal Concentration Areas (ACAs), and the requirements of Chapter 91, which cover nutrient management for manure storage and land application for all operations that generate or utilize manure nutrients. In addition, farms over certain animal number thresholds are subject to the state Act 38 Nutrient Management Act and the federal Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulations, but Act 38 and the CAFO regs only apply to a small minority of operations in Mifflin County. The most basic requirements are that if you do any kind of tillage of the soil in excess of 5,000 square feet (including no-till) and/or you have any Animal Concentration Areas in excess of 5,000 square feet you must have and be following an Ag Erosion and Sediment Control Plan that prescribes BMPs to address any potential sediment runoff that might enter and pollute the waters of the Commonwealth. Likewise, if you have livestock that generate manure or if you import manure from other operations for application on your land, you must have and be following a Manure Management Plan as described in the PA Manure Management Manual. While these may be new to some producers, the basic requirements have been in place for some time (Chapter 102 since 1972). There just hasn’t been any effort to enforce the regulations, apparently, until now.
The Chapter 102 Erosion & Sediment (E&S) control law was recently revised to better define exactly what is regulated and what is required for compliance. An up-to-date Farm Conservation Plan that contains the following can satisfy the requirements for an Ag E&S Plan: soil loss from accelerated erosion of land subject to plowing and tilling (including no-till) must be limited to the soil loss tolerance “T” over the planned crop rotation; for plowing and tilling on fields with less than 25% plant cover or crop residue cover and within 100 feet of a river, or perennial or intermittent stream, additional BMPs must be implemented to minimize erosion and sedimentation; for ACAs, the plan must identify BMPs to minimize accelerated erosion and sedimentation; the E&S plan must contain plan maps showing locations of features including surface waters, drainage patterns, field and property boundaries, buildings and structures, ACAs, roads, soil maps, BMPs; a description of BMPs, tillage systems, schedules and crop rotations; and an implementation schedule of BMPs. The plan must be consistent with the current conditions and activities on the agricultural operation and available for review at the farm.
Chapter 91 states that all farms using or generating manure must have a written Manure Management Plan that provides for optimum crop yields and water quality. Exactly what a compliant Manure Management Plan contains is not so easily defined right now. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the process of developing a new Manure Management Manual that will provide a template for producers to use in developing their own plan. Planning standards will address manure application rate calculation options, winter spreading restrictions, year-round manure application setbacks from streams and other environmentally sensitive areas, manure storage assessment and record keeping, in-field manure stacking requirements, barnyard and ACA protection criteria, and pasture protection criteria. A draft manual was released in June, 2010, published in the PA Bulletin in August, and public comments were accepted during the 90 day period that followed. DEP is now preparing another draft in response to the comments received that should be released in the near future. It is hoped that a final version of the manual will be available by summer.
So what can local ag producers do to ensure compliance with environmental regulations? A good place to start is by looking closely at your own operation. Are there any obvious problems, such as manure storage overflows, barnyard and/or milkhouse waste discharges that could ultimately end up in streams or waterways, winter manure spreading problems, ACAs, or erosion problems (rills and gullies) from crop fields? If so, these problems need addressed as soon as possible. Does your livestock have free access to a stream, trampling the banks and causing bank erosion and potential water quality problems (be honest!)? Do you have a current Conservation Plan that addresses the natural resource concerns on your farm, contains the plan components previously mentioned, and has it been implemented? Do you have some kind of plan to deal with the manure generated and/or land applied on your cropland that ensures that the manure nutrients will be utilized by your crops and not washed into a stream or waterway? Do you test your soils and manure to avoid a build-up of excess nutrients from over-application? Both the Mifflin County Conservation District and the local USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can provide technical assistance (and in some cases financial assistance) to help producers identify and address these natural resource concerns on their operations. Both agencies are located at 20 Windmill Hill, Burnham, next to Kish Printing; the Conservation District can be reached at 717-248-4965, NRCS at 717-248-9541.
The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its impaired tributaries promises to be a challenging, expensive, far-reaching, and, in some cases, painful effort that will touch every resident of the Bay Watershed in one form or another. The Bay TMDL and implementation plan is the largest such water quality restoration effort ever undertaken and will no doubt serve as a model for the future in other areas of water quality impairment, such as the Mississippi River drainage. No one segment of the population has done more in the past to reduce pollutants to the Bay, and yet is still expected to do even more in the future, than the watershed’s agricultural producers. But hopefully the end result will be clean, vibrant waterways and productive, sustainable farms in the Bay Watershed.sds