Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maryland Horse Council
Farm Stewardship Committee
Spring Meeting
May 23, 2013

            The grass was green for our fourth Farm Stewardship meeting hosted by University of Maryland equine specialist and committee vice chair Amy Burk at her rotational pasture demonstration farm in Ellicott City, Maryland.  A dedicated group overcame the threat of rain and gathered to discuss current issues to achieve land stewardship’s goals of contributing to healthy horses and a healthy environment in Maryland

            Jane Thery, the committee chair, opened the meeting with an overview of the group’s priorities of promoting a voice for the equestrian community in state-wide policy discussions on the environment; getting more recognition for the positive contribution of land management of the 527,000 acres in Maryland horse farms; linking technical and financial assistance to horse farm needs; staying ahead of the curve on farm management technologies and regulations and; promoting the Maryland Farm Stewardship and Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP) administered by the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD).

            Gerald Talbert, FSCAP Project Leader, shared the good news that we now have nine horse farms in the program – adding two new farms since our winter meeting, Linda Santomenna’s Blue Waters Farm in Chesapeake City and Michael Rubin’s Breezy Hill Farm in Boyds, for a total of 1,055 acres in six counties.  He also described MASCD’s new Pollinator Habitat Project that provides expensive seeds to farms to increase native vegetation that attracts pollinators and noted that there was a surprisingly strong demand for the project. 

            Gerald also gave a summary of the recently-passed Maryland Agricultural Certainty Bill (SB 1029).  The program will allow certified farmers who voluntarily implement advanced best management practices to conduct their business without additional regulations for ten years.   After ten years, farmers will have to be in full compliance with regulations at the time.  An Oversight Committee to help draft the program regulations will be selected by Agricultural Secretary Buddy Hance. The group discussed possible Maryland Horse Council representatives to serve on this committee including Jane Seigler, Steuart Pittman and Carolyn Krome.  Resumes need to go to Secretary Buddy Hance, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD  21401 and Gloria Chambers at but June 1. 

            Some concerns raised about this program were potential new fees for farm assessments, information on what best management practices it would include, access to technical and financial assistance from state and county governments, nutrient trading benefits and the relationship between the program and FSCAP.  Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which is a partner in the FSCAP program, described their role in supporting the agricultural community and willingness to help provide information.  They pointed out that one benefit of participating in Agricultural Certainty program was an opportunity to observe the impact of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Plan requirements on a farm over the critical ten year period from 2014 – 2024. Ideas floated for how to get better information out to our community included more contact with Soil Conservation District equine specialists, University of Maryland webinars explaining the program, web-based frequently asked questions on the program as it evolves, more information in the Equiery and identification of speakers who could address horse community groups. This new program will be on the agenda of our summer farm stewardship committee.

            Carolyn Krome of Persimmon Tree Farm, the first horse farm certified in FSCAP,  opened the discussion on the idea of a special recognition of horse farms that implement advanced environmental practices.  She described the practices she has put in place with technical and financial assistance from existing government programs, including wildlife habitat with native plants and MASCD’s Pollinator Habitat Project.  She described her pastures as well-mown and healthy.  She will be working on the criteria for special awards to horse farms for their extraordinary farm stewardship.

            Jane Thery closed the meeting thanking our sponsor, Piedmont Insurance and its representative Matt Curran for the fine refreshments and announcing the summer farm stewardship meeting will be held at the FSCAP-certified farm, Sagamore. 

            The meeting was followed by a wonderful pasture walk and seminar on growing healthy pastures organized by Amy for the University of Maryland extension program.