With regard to animal agriculture (mostly poultry and dairy in the watershed region), the report says that sector of agriculture contributes approximately 17 percent of the nitrogen entering the bay and 26 percent of the phosphorus but adds that much of the manure nitrogen and manure phosphorus could be safely applied to cropland. Again though, this comes with a cost, which the researchers estimate to be between $15 million to $27 million per year. According to the study, an increase in the share of cropland using manure from 30 to 90 percent reduces hauling costs in the watershed about 15 percent. It concludes that education and technical/financial assistance for manure management could increase the willingness of crop producers to substitute manure for commercial fertilizers.
For every pro related with a policy approach, there comes a con (sometimes more than one). This is an issue that has drawn the attention not just of those affected within the watershed but throughout the country as the Chesapeake Bay approach could be taken in other watersheds across the United States. While the court case (American Farm Bureau v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; case number 13-4079) is pending, the clock is ticking toward timelines established by EPA. Farmers and ranchers have a track record of working with public and private partners to protect and conserve the land and its resources, hopefully a resolution can be reached that does not involve federally dictated and restricted land and water use. While we are each entitled to our own opinions about the overall TMDL and the results of the study conducted by USDA, the fact is implementing practices or complying with strict, mandated nutrient limits will come at a cost so it’s important for all to have a full understanding of all options available.
The full study is available here. What are your thoughts? Leave us a comment below.