Agriculture is no enemy of clean water

While The News Journal's articles and editorial on the relationship of poultry manure, agriculture and the environment were a balanced attempt to convey the issues confronting agriculture in Delaware, several additional points will help readers better understand.
 The News Journal acknowledges the tremendous progress agriculture has made in reducing nutrient loading. The Environmental Protection Agency agrees that over the last 10 years, agriculture's nitrogen and phosphorus loading into the Chesapeake Bay has been reduced by 40 percent by the adoption of a wide range of best practices at the farm level and improved feeding and nutrition. However, for every reduction in nutrient loading from agriculture, there have been increases in nutrient loading from the other sectors, including municipal wastewater, storm water and industrial wastewater. Every farmer in Delaware has stepped up and adopted change; it only seems fair that other sectors begin to make similar progress.
The Delaware Department of Agriculture, like our sister agencies across the country, have a long and successful tradition of regulating a wide array of agricultural sectors. The Department of Agriculture has assumed these responsibilities for over 100 years because legislators and other decision-makers believe this is the best place for those programs; that is, a place where agriculture is understood and regulations are most effectively applied. Appropriately, the regulation of nutrients for crop production has fallen under the purview of DDA since the inception of the Delaware Nutrient Management Law in 2000.
DDA, the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission and DNREC have worked closely with farmers, the agricultural industry, and the EPA for over 10 years to craft and effectively administer nutrient management regulations, which have contributed to the 40 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus. To comply with new federal regulations relating to animal-generated nutrients, which have emerged as a result of class action suits against EPA at the national level, Delaware's regulations have changed and will change again. Only recently has it become clear that complying with the federal regulations of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations lies with DNREC, not DDA. The editorial called for surprise inspections and the public availability of nutrient management plans. Both are addressed in the proposed new regulations posted on the Department of Agriculture's website (http://dda.delaware.gov/nutrients/ index.shtml). Nutrient Management Plans associated with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations will be available for public review. Surprise inspections may occur as well.
We must connect these issues to a much bigger concern: the economic importance of the industry to Delaware and the region. Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware. More than 50,000 people here directly depend on agriculture to feed their children, make mortgage payments, send their kids to school and make a better life. The agricultural industry, including the poultry industry, produces safe, wholesome affordable food products every day for millions of consumers. That is why over the past three years, the Markell administration has made strategic investments in agriculture to help ensure its long-term viability, including the new Young Farmers program, preserving farmland in our Ag Lands Preservation program, and partnering with the Delaware Economic Development office to provide zero interest loans for a portion of the cost of irrigation systems. This commitment helps ensure the future of agriculture for our children and grandchildren, both as farmers and as consumers.But if agriculture is going to remain an important part of Delaware's economy and quality of life for generations to come, we must be careful stewards of the natural resources that enable agriculture to flourish. That is why Delaware's approach to managing nutrients encourages innovation and flexibility in agriculture while sustainably protecting our land and water resources. Our water quality problems were created over decades and will take years to successfully address. All of us -- farmers, local government, business, industry and homeowners -- can make progress by working together toward the goal of clean water, which is the shared goal of DDA, the Nutrient Management Commission and DNREC. We believe we are achieving this balance with the support and concurrence from Delawareans up and down the state.

Edwin Kee is Delaware's Secretary of Agriculture.

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