This is part three of a three-part series. Read part one, Chesapeake Bay regs would 'flood' Midwest farms and part two, Chesapeake Bay water clean-up model: What Midwest farmers learned.
As reported early this week, Illinois Soybean Association's Production Committee of five farmers returned home somewhat spooked by their fact-finding mission to Eastern Shore Maryland and Delaware.
What_they_learned is that EPA's Chesapeake Bay (clean-up) model now being tightened down and is likely be the Mississippi basin model – for all farms, not just concentrated animal feeding operations.
While they hope to keep U.S. EPA's ag nutrient management regulations on nitrogen and phosphorus voluntary, they also learned that the voluntary approach wasn't progressing fast enough to please environmentalists. By EPA's measure, Delaware and Maryland were making progress in their mandatory Bay clean-up plans. But other Chesapeake Bay watershed states with voluntary programs weren't. That includes Pennsylvania, the region's largest agricultural state.
Political pressure rising
Waterkeeper environmental groups on the lower Mississippi River already have threatened to bring suit against EPA and Army Corp of Engineers, noted Richard Wilkins, first vice president of the American Soybean Association. The Greenwood, Del., farmer hosted the Illinois fact-finders.
The latest threat came in March when the Des Moines, Iowa, Water Works filed a lawsuit against three northern Iowa drainage districts for nitrate pollution of the Raccoon River watershed. Wilkins believes the Iowa lawsuit may be a likely Bay model precursor . . . just as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's initial lawsuit against U.S. EPA was the trigger for EPA's N and P "pollution diets" for the Bay.
Show us the money
Then, there's the money issue. Who'd pay for the massive undertaking? Time, politics and state fiscal constraints may make either mandatory or voluntary programs difficult.
Illinois livestock producers may be ahead of the curve when it comes to cleaning up their portion of water pollution to Mississippi River Basin watersheds, contended Donald Guinnip, chairman of ISA's production committee. Even so, he conceded that planting the Chesapeake clean-up model on the farm shorelines of Mississippi basin watersheds would pose huge challenges to farming and funding.
While U.S. EPA and Department of Agriculture have been major partners in the Bay clean-up. During Fiscal Year 2014, alone, more than $460 million was poured into Chesapeake Bay restoration by the federal government. It was designated for specific watershed implementation goals to be carried out by state agencies. Another $434 million in federal monies was committed for FY15 for the Chesapeake watershed covering 41 million acres – a pond, compared to the Mississippi's watersheds.
Mississippi basin acreage more than quadruples that of the Chesapeake watershed. The upper basin covers 121 million acres; the lower basin covers 67 million acres, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service data.
The second most important Midwest "take home" was: The Mid-Atlantic states have already invested billions in research, education, technical assistance, cost-sharing and monitoring of even voluntary nutrient management programs.
Maryland commits $22 million to cost-shared cover crops, averaging $50 an acre on close to 478,000 acres. But Guinnip rightfully questioned how Illinois, for instance, could cost-share cover crops on 9.5 to 10 million acres of tiled land or close to 20 million acres of crop land – in a state already financially strapped. "Even at $20 an acre, cover crop cost-sharing would be cost prohibitive."