Nutrient management plans for urban farms.

Under Maryland’s 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act, any farm, urban or rural, which brings in over $2,500 in gross revenue per year or has over 8,000 pounds of animals is required to file and follow a nutrient management plan (NMP) with the state. NMPs are designed to reduce the amount of agricultural pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.

In order to create an NMP, a farmer must take a six-week Farmer Training and Certification course. Farms can also hire certified NMP preparers to create their plans for them; for larger operations, this may be a good time-saving solution, but a finished NMP can cost several thousand dollars, which could be prohibitive for small farms. NMPs must be updated every three years.

The NMP includes:

  • a soil test,
  • yield goals,
  • manure and biosolids analysis, and
  • nitrogen estimates.

Based on these inputs, the plan generates field-by-field recommendations and limits for how much fertilizer to apply, depending on the crop.

NMPs are designed to be used in large commodity farms, which heavily use manure and other soil amendments. According to the preparer of the Real Food Farm NMP, the “recommended” dose of fertilizer was many times more than RFF would ever use and was also an amount of fertilizer that they couldn’t afford to purchase, even if they wanted to apply it.

Even small urban farms that have been in existence for more than a few years will likely meet the very low revenue threshold for the NMP requirement. The state has placed a significant burden on these small producers, and the burden yields almost no corresponding benefit to the Chesapeake Bay, since state-recommended fertilizer levels are so high.

If you have questions about your Maryland farm’s NMP, contact the Agricultural Nutrient Management Program at the University of Maryland Extension.

Posted on by Becky Witt

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