Chesapeake Bay briefing highlights management issues

By Kristin Merony

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 30, 2012 - Academics, producers and consultants agreed that a ‘cookie cutter approach' to achieve the Chesapeake Bay water quality targets using nutrient management plans (NMP) will not be effective without balancing public and private benefits. They discussed the issue during an educational briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by several agricultural science groups on Wednesday.  

NMPs define the nutrient needs of crops, and how to best provide the amount, sources, placement and timing of nutrient applications to maximize plant uptake and improve yield in order to reduce nutrient and sediment loads.

University of Maryland Assistant Professor Josh McGrath emphasized that nutrient management is not an exact science. “It is not farmers over applying nutrients, it is the limit of our technology in nutrient management,” he said.   

Certified Crop Advisor and Founder of Rosetree Consulting Eric Rosenbaum agreed adding, “You cannot expect a farmer who successfully implements a NMP to meet his pollution reduction goals on every acre every year, simply because of variability.”

McGrath and Rosenbaum highlighted the need for a better, more accurate recommendation system with simpler tools for farmers to implement NMPs in order to make positive strides in the Chesapeake Bay region.  

“Individual farms have individual needs. There cannot be a cookie cutter approach to nutrient pollution reduction practices,” said Brubaker Farms owner and operator Luke Brubaker. “It will take time, and steady, reliable sources of funding.”

Penn State University Professor James Shortle said that nutrient management is a regulatory and economic issue, and he detailed the difference between the public and private benefits that accrue from the different nutrient management choices farmers have. 

For example, Shortle said stream buffers have extremely high public benefits but little to no private benefits, whereas no-till farming often has significant private benefits, including reduced labor and energy, but cannot be used on all farms.

The Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction plan calls for the implementation of nutrient management practices, many of which have no private benefits for the farmer, he explained.   

“If regulations require immediate implementation, the financial stress will be far too great for many farm families,” added Brubaker when he was explaining how expensive it was to comply with the regulations. 

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) sponsored the educational briefing.

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