Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maryland Horse Council Farm Stewardship Committee, July 12 Meeting Report

It was a lovely evening to visit Persimmon Tree Farm in Westminster, Carroll County, Maryland to discuss horse farm stewardship under the auspices of the Maryland Horse Council.  Jane Thery, the Committee chair, welcomed the group to this first meeting.  About forty people came to the meeting which began with an educational tour of the farm from owner Carolyn Krome who demonstrated the results of her engagement with the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and with the Farm Stewardship and Assessment Program.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a voluntary land retirement program that helps agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat, and safeguard ground and surface water. Persimmon Tree Farm has large areas of tall grasses on land not suited for pastures which serve as wildlife habitat.

The Maryland Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP), recognizes farmers for being good conservation stewards and meeting the Agricultural Conservation Stewardship Certification Standard (ACSCS) (PDF Link Here).  This program was identified by the Farm Stewardship committee as a legitimate way to show how horse farms, which make up one quarter of Maryland’s agricultural land, are contributing to protecting the environment through maintenance of open land, tree stands, healthy pastures and grasslands.   Farms interested in having their efforts at providing a healthy home for horses as well as being champions of the environment can work with this program and receive as public recognition an impressive farm sign that includes the logos of the Core Partners: Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD), Maryland Farm Bureau (MFB),Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Twenty seven farms received recognition so far, including three horse farms, Persimmon Tree, Bloomsbury Forge and Edgewood.  Carolyn Krome pointed out how she fenced off her streams, planted trees along the banks, harrows her fields, has barn manure stored on a cement pad and frequently hauled away, uses carefully calibrated fertilizer and reseeding to maintain quality pastures and installed pasture waters.

Gerald Talbert directs the Farm Stewardship Certification program and encouraged the meeting participant to contact him about the steps needed for certification.  His email address is  Karla Stoner, owner of Bloomsbury Forge, spoke on her positive experience with the receiving her farm certification and encouraged others to start the process.  A goal of the Farm Stewardship Committee is to see how we can significantly raise the number of certified horse farms under this program.

Steuart Pittman, the president of the Maryland Horse Council, and Jane Seigler, the vice president, addressed the importance of the horse community’s active voice in environmental discussion among Maryland politicians and regulators.  They noted that the fact that the Maryland Horse Council formed a Farm Stewardship Committee helps entree into state-wide debates over laws and regulation in this area and serves as a bridge between the agricultural and environmental groups.  Jane Seigler reviewed the proposed changes in nutrient management regulations.  The details on this regulation are presented in the legislative section of the Maryland Horse Council web site. Comments are due on August 13 and everyone was encouraged to attend the regional consultations and speak up for the horse community.

George Maurer, a conservation specialist, presented an update on nutrient trading programs.  These programs are evolving but the present policy does not allow horse farmers to get nutrient trading credit for the fact that many apply much less fertilizer to their land than is allowed under their nutrient management plans.  Other options for providing private sector funds for horse farms in exchange for nutrient credits may become available.

Les Vough, in representation of the Grazers Network, described how the network identifies mentors and farm management partners to promote the exchange of information on best practices in pasture management for healthy livestock and healthy pastures.  The next step will be to identify horse farm mentors, who would receive some compensation under this project, and match them with horse farm partners to provide targeted assistance.

Last but not least, Jennifer Reynolds of the University of Maryland Equine Extension program  described the pasture management programs available and encouraged participation on these seminars and workshops, especially those focused on rotational grazing.  She was representing the Farm Stewardship Committee vice chair, Amy Burk.

During the discussions, some participants raised concerns about the lack of response from officials of Soil Conservation Districts who are key in identifying resources to help horse farm owners and managers take advantage of programs for technical and financial assistance.  The Farm Stewardship Committee may raise this issue at the state level to see if there are staffing or resource solutions that we could support.  Another concern raised was the specifications for manure holding area concrete pads.  The specifications seemed to require very “over built” structures according to some participants. The response from officials present who are familiar with the program was that the pads need to withstand heavy machinery, last for a number of years and accommodate possible increases future manure loads.

Future topics for consideration by the committee will be greater participation in policy discussions on environmental issues, perhaps through written comments as well as representation on advisory groups, evaluation of farm certification needs for more high-density horse farms, sharing positive experiences and engaging major horse communities across the state.

The next meeting will be scheduled in the fall.  We hope to identify another farm that is willing to include a farm tour as part of the agenda.  Suggestions of topics for this next meeting are welcome! Please contact the committee chair, Jane Thery at theryjane@gmail.comor the vice chair, Amy Burk at with your ideas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

August 13 Deadline for Comments on New Nutrient Management Regs

The link above includes the proposed changes in the Maryland State regulations for nutrient management.  Please look them over and let me know know if you have any suggested changes based on your experience with horse farm stewardship.