Md. farmers making progress on pollution

December 01, 2009

Tim Wheeler's story "Heavy rains deter planting of cover crops" (Nov. 21) accurately states the effects of weather, grain markets, business costs and other logistics on a farmer's ability to plant cover crops. The O'Malley administration understands these challenges and has, year after year, listened to farmers, adapted the state's cover crop program to make it logistically and financially appealing, targeted resources for maximum results, approved all applications and committed record funding that has covered all payments promised to farmers.

Because there are many issues that impact a farm operation from year to year, it is important to keep an eye on the critical goal of nutrient reduction. Restoring the Chesapeake Bay requires each of us to think and act differently and hold ourselves accountable to real progress. To ensure real progress in bay restoration, Gov. Martin O'Malley led the other bay states and the federal government in establishing two-year progress milestones, tracked for public review through BayStat.

Maryland residents, businesses, governments and farmers must together reduce nitrogen going to the bay by 3.75 million pounds by 2011 - the end of the first two-year milestone period. Of that goal, 2.5 million pounds are assigned to the agricultural sector. Through their commitment to a wide array of nutrient-reducing practices, farmers have accomplished nearly 40 percent of the 2011 goal in just one year.

Cover crops are a cost-effective way for this sector to reduce its impact, but they are just one piece of a multi-faceted effort to restore the bay. We continue to look for new ways to reach this goal. A few examples are newer technologies such as precision agriculture, which reduces nutrient applications, and consideration of options to reduce fall fertilizer applications to cash grains.

There is a great deal of credit to go around for the progress the agricultural sector has made toward the 2011 goal, from the state's flexible and strongly funded cover crop program to the commitment and resourcefulness of farmers.

There is no doubt that achieving the goals will be challenging for all sectors, but working to enlist farmers in applying new technologies and other creative approaches, in addition to greater focus on achieving cover crop goals, makes the agricultural goal achievable.Earl F. Hance, Annapolis

The writer is the Maryland secretary of agriculture.

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