EPA's Chesapeake Bay 'Backstops' Would Kill Many Small Farms

Nor' east Thinkin'

Many farmers – not just in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – aren't aware of EPA's 'backstops' if their watersheds fail to meet water quality goals.

Published on: December 13, 2013

Over the last few years, I've attended many farm meetings covering U.S. EPA's plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed tributaries. Those regulatory plans were always couched as friendly partnerships with state agencies, soil and water conservation districts, and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But if you cut through EPA's muddy techno-bureaucratic jargon, you'll discover that it's not only very unfriendly; It is hostile and threatening to all of agriculture. 2014 is likely to be a high watermark test. Worse, many farmers aren't fully aware of the agency's regulatory mindset if watersheds fail to meet 2013 watershed implementation plan goals.

Being WIPed into compliance?

EPA's intentions really sunk home at a recent cover crop meeting at Big Flats, N.Y. There, Aaron Ristow, ag coordinator of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, bluntly interpreted EPA's techno-bureaucratic language. In essence, EPA could impose the following "backstops" – presumably for livestock operations – if New York would fall behind on progress reports and two-year WIP milestones:

  • Farms of any size (could be) regulated as CAFOs.
  • Farms of any size will have nutrient management programs.
  • Farms of any size will be required to have manure storage.
  • Farms of any size will be prohibited from spreading manure during the winter.
  • All manure applied to crop fields will need to be injected.
  • All farms will be required to have ammonia emission controls on their facilities.

Ristow suggests the list may differ by state and watershed. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection couldn't or wouldn't furnish a comparable backstop list. However, a DEP press aide noted: "Except for 'backstops' already imposed, no further regulatory action has been taken by EPA on any of the jurisdictions."

Yet it's almost inconceivable that such backstops gotten this far. Imagine, for instance, the effect of all animal feeding operations being converted to confined animal feeding operations. That, alone, would destroy many small farms and Northeast food producers because of the unaffordable regulatory burden. Several others are simply economically unattainable.

With partners like EPA, who needs enemies? Similar WIPs are being applied to every major watershed in the country. Even consumers should be outraged at the audacity of the mindsets behind these backstops.

Ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay WIPs are designed to ensure that all practices necessary to restore the bay and its tidal waters are in place by 2025. And, at least 60% of the actions must be taken by 2017.

For more particulars, watch for your soon-to-arrive January American Agriculturist issue, and turn to "Food for Thought" on page 10.

Click on “Add a Comment” to share your thoughts.