On Friday, Maryland Department of Agriculture announced that Spring arrived on March 1 – according to the state's regulatory datebook. Never mind the snow, frozen ground or single-digit temperatures. March 1 marks the start of the "fertilizer" season for farmers in the Free State.
Maryland Ag Secretary Buddy Hance issued the announcement to give non-farm citizens who live or drive near farms a "heads up" understanding of what farming practices they can expect to see in the next few weeks. And, as he points out, there have been a few changes farmers should note as well.
"Farming is an evolving science and often times we get calls in the spring from citizens who don't always understand what they are seeing," explains Secretary Hance. "Today's farmers are using the latest scientific tools and environmental practices to prevent nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They're doing so according to a specially formulated, scientifically based plan designed for the crop needs on their land."
On March 1, farmers are cleared to start applying manure and other fertilizers in accordance with their nutrient management plans. That assumes Mother Nature cooperates, he points out.
And the rules are…
Any farmer earning more than $2,500 a year or managing more than 8,000 pounds of live animal must, by law, follow a nutrient management plan. These plans specify how much fertilizer, manure or other nutrient sources may be safely applied to crops to achieve yields and prevent excess nutrients from impacting waterways.
Poultry and livestock producers must manage manure over the winter to conserve its valuable nutrients and protect the Chesapeake Bay – one of two ways: Most poultry producers store manure in protective structures. Those without enough covered structures can follow prescribed conservation practices to stockpile it in fields – on high ground and away from water sources, public roads and neighbors.
Those stockpiles are shaped to "crust over" and shed water when exposed to rain and snow. That protects them until the manure can be land-applied.
Livestock farmers also stack bedding material until spring using the same guidelines and store liquid manures in structures until spring. Under limited conditions, liquid manures may be spread in winter. But that provision ends in 2016.
Maryland farmers must now establish application setbacks or "no spread" zones where they may not apply fertilizer near surface waters and streams. Setback size depends on the method used for fertilizer application. Also, farmers must restrict livestock access to streams and certain surface waters.