Maryland Horse Council Farm Stewardship Committee
Summer Meeting Summary
August 22, 2013
It was a truly beautiful afternoon at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland for our Summer Farm Stewardship meeting. Our group of twenty-five gathered under an old shade tree in front of Native Dancer’s Barn. Jane Thery, the committee chair, welcomed the participants to the Farm Stewardship meeting with a reminder of the mission of this Maryland Horse Council committee to promote high-quality horse farm land management for healthy horses and a healthy natural environment. She reviewed the agenda and introduced Randy Lewis, our host at Sagamore Farm. Randy gave a brief history of this 530-acre racing and breeding operation. The farm was successful under the ownership of Alfred Vanderbilt from 1933 to 1986 and was the home of Hall of Fame horses Native Dancer, Bed of Roses and Discovery. In 2007, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank purchased the farm and began a major renovation of the barns, track and pastures and established his own Sagamore breeding and training operation. His top trainers, Ignacio Correa and Graham Motion, are doing well with Sagamore stakes horses.
Randy gave the group a tour of the impressive oval barn, the new high-tech surface on the training track and the modern training barn designed by John Blackburn. John presented his new book, “Healthy Stables by Design” which includes photos and information on the natural light and ventilation of the Sagamore stables.
Jon Passero, the Land Stewardship and Facilities Manager, described how the farm was renovated with new pasture plantings of orchard grass and blue grass. He noted that the orchard grass was doing very well. The new farm design fenced off all the streams and manages water run-off to avoid erosion. Pastures are rotated and fertilized based on careful soil testing and analysis. All manure from the stables is shipped off to the mushroom growers. Jon began his career in the plant nursery business and noted that, with available technical assistance and professional guidance, it is possible to successfully take on a large operation such as Sagamore and have very positive land stewardship results. He found the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP) promoted by the Maryland Horse Council to be an easy win for Sagamore as the farm is managed to the highest standards. Jon was pleased that Sagamore was one of the eleven horse farms recognized by Maryland Governor O’Malley for FSCAP certification. Gerald Talbert, Project Leader of the FSCAP program, congratulated Sagamore on their land management practices.
Ciara McMurtrie, Baltimore County Soil Conservation District Equine Specialist, told the group of her own background with horses and opportunity to work with horse farms to improve pastures and farm management. She underlined that her office is providing help with advice and access to cost-sharing programs and is not in the business of enforcing regulations. Ciara said that work with the right grass seeding mixtures continues with analysis of orchard grass, fescue, blue grass and Bermuda grass. She said that each farm and indeed each pasture of each farm is most successful with targeted planting according to the soil, slope, location, etc. Ciara reminded the group that newly seeded pastures require at least six months without horses to become established. She is ready to provide assistance with pastures, manure management and storage, rainwater run-off, stream crossings and any other aspect of quality farm management.
Doug Myers, Maryland Scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, presented an update on the Maryland Agricultural Certainty Program regulations. Doug was instrumental in the design of this new legislation which has the dual purpose of bringing Maryland up to speed in protecting the Chesapeake Bay and helping the agricultural sector through science-based regulations and predictable time-frames. The concept of agricultural certainty is that farms that meet all present regulations for nutrient management – basically minimizing run-off of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment – will have a ten-year grace period before having to meet any new regulations. Doug stated that the baseline will most likely be a combination of the FSCAP requirements plus a farm measurement of actual run-off using sophisticated software. The regulations will be based on the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint that sets goals and includes modern methods of measuring farm run-off. Issues yet to be addressed are whether standards will be uniform across Maryland, how to best collect the data and how to protect the privacy of individual farms while analyzing watershed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay. Doug hopes to work with our FSCAP certified horse farms to help develop regulations which are user-friendly for our horse community. He noted that there are plans to establish a nutrient trading system and, as well-managed horse farms are positive contributors to the environment, they would benefit from being able to sell nutrient credits on the exchange. Doug said that he would be glad to hear from any horse-farm owners with questions as the regulatory discussions continue. He said that our own MHC Executive Committee member Steuart Pittman ably represents horse farm owners and managers on the advisory committee. Doug said that the draft regulations should be circulated for public comment in the next couple of months.
Carolyn Krome, owner of Persimmon Tree Farm which was the first FSCAP certified horse farm, spoke on naturalizing your horse farm. She recommends finding buffer areas and areas that are not suitable for pasture and planting native grasses to both hold the soil and provide wildlife habitat. She showed the group a beautiful stand of grasses from her farm, including wild flowers that attract butterflies. Carolyn strongly recommends checking out the weekly publication “Lancaster Farming – Southern Edition” for naturalizing tips and sources of financing for technical assistance. She has worked successfully with the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and organizations such as Pheasant, Quail and Trout Unlimited on natural habitat restoration. Unfortunately, the quail she tried to introduce to their new habitat served as a meal for other wildlife in the area! Carolyn would be glad to provide guidance to anyone interested in these FSCAP-plus measures to improve your farm for your horses, natural flora and fauna and to contribute to a beautiful landscape.
Finally, Jennifer Reynolds, representing the University of Maryland Equine program, invited everyone to visit the Maryland State Fair and to attend two upcoming Pasture Management Seminars: September 7 at Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County and September 21 at Hassler Dressage at Riveredge in Cecil County. Jane Thery closed the program thanking our sponsors, Randy Lewis of Sagamore Farm for hosting the meeting and Andy Bennett of the Piedmont Insurance Group for the fine refreshments and corporate gifts for the group.
Information on the autumn Maryland Horse Council Farm Stewardship meeting will be available soon.