Published on November 21, 2016 in UMB News.

November 21, 2016    |   By Karen Robinson

The University of Maryland’s Agriculture Law Education Initiative(ALEI) showcased a dynamic panel of presenters discussing the complex intersection of environmental regulation and agriculture in Maryland at the sold-out 2016 Agriculture and Environmental Law Conference in Annapolis on Nov. 18.

Experts shared their knowledge on issues such as alternative energy on the farm, hot topics in agricultural and environmental law and agritourism and zoning compliance. The presentations included a keynote panel on water quality regulations and agriculture, featuring Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee.

ALEI is a collaboration of the School of Law; the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP); and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland: MPowering the State, a strategic partnership between UMB and UMCP created in 2012 to significantly expand research, business development, and student opportunities at both universities.

School of Law Dean Donald Tobin, JD, provided a morning welcome for the conference, which brought together lawyers, farmers, policymakers, environmental experts and government officials.

“The goal of ALEI is to provide Maryland farmers with the information they need to prosper while complying with the complex network of laws and policies that protect the integrity of the state’s food system and environment,” Tobin said. “This conference is just one of ALEI’s many efforts to give the agricultural community information. We hope that all these different stakeholders will learn from one another; that everyone will leave the conference with a greater understanding of the law, of the regulations and of their impact on Maryland agriculture.”

Much of the conference focused on regulations intended to preserve the environment, how they’re changing and how they affect agriculture, including the keynote panel that focused largely on regulations intended to conserve the Chesapeake Bay.

“Whether you’re dealing with water quantity or water quality, there’s all sorts of issues surrounding water, and those issues are front and center with what we do … to sustain agriculture and make it economically viable,” said Craig Beyrouty, PhD, MS, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park, as he introduced the keynote.

Keynote moderator Michael Pappas, JD, MA, associate professor at the School of Law and a member of ALEI, said, “It’s largely been one of the themes of ALEI to try to take away this feeling of agriculture versus environment. There continues to be a lot of feeling in the agriculture community that there tends to be an outsize burden on agriculture.” He asked the panelists for their thoughts.

“Delaware is not Maryland and Maryland is not Delaware,” Kee said. “But when I interact with different sectors in Delaware, I really don’t hear anymore the [complaint] that, ‘we have to do this and housing gets a free pass or construction gets a free pass or some other sector gets a free pass.’ Ten year ago, that was on the table. Every sector is dealing with regulations, and with all the discussion over the years they recognize that one sector is not being picked on.

Now, I don’t want to give impression that everybody is happy with every regulation on the books.”

The situation in Maryland has improved as well, said Bartenfelder. “When Governor Hogan took office, he was committed to making sure we had regulations in place that were based in science and fact, and also the economic viability of our agriculture industry all across Maryland,” Bartenfelder explained. “We got them done. Maryland is pointed to and held up as an example nationwide about what can be done about the waters of the U.S.”

Grumbles said a deep understanding of the different needs of different industries is necessary for fair regulations. “One of the things I know from having worked on the Clean Water Act … is how every sector needs a customized approach,” he said. “We need to understand that agriculture should be regulated differently and managed differently from other types of sectors. The key for us in Maryland is customizing the best approaches.”

During an earlier panel on alternative energy on the farm, Sean Jones, a dairy farmer with Jones Family Farm in Kent County, discussed his installation of a five-acre solar field on his family’s 1,650-acre farm in 2013. The field generates almost the entire 1.6 megawatt hours of annual electricity consumption on the farm, much of that power used to cool milk and to keep the cows cool in the hot summer months, Jones said.

Federal tax credits covered 30 percent of the project’s cost in the first two years. The solar field also generates about 1,700 solar renewable energy credits in Maryland per year. And a USA Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grant provided $500,000 toward building the solar array. “The initial investment is almost 100 percent recouped at this point,” Jones said. The financial benefits have proven critical as milk prices fall, he added. The picture was not all sunny, Jones said – he described several challenges including dealing with his utility company regarding energy rates and billing issues.

Jones was joined by Rebecca Rush of Community Renewable Energy, who described a dichotomy between farming and solar energy. “A solar farm is not a farm,” she said. “There’s not necessarily anything related with agriculture associated with” the solar farms. Solar developers proactively contact farmers asking to use their land for solar energy, Rush said. “Then the question is, do you want to stay being a farmer or not? What we’re trying to do is help educate people who are landowners to make as good decision as possible on integrating the right renewable energy at the right time.”

Other topics and speakers included:

Food Safety Modernization Act & Water Usage:Justine Beaulieu, faculty research assistant/good agricultural practices educator, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland; Sarah Everhart, Legal Specialist & Research Associate, ALEI.

Water Quality & the Bay: Jason Keppler, manager of the Watershed Implementation Program, Office of Resource Conservation, Maryland Department of Agriculture; Dave Newburn, professor of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland, College Park; Sam Owings, president of High Impact Environmental.

Agritourism & Zoning Compliance: Kevin Atticks of Grow and Fortify; Randy Marriner of Manor Hill Brewing.

Recent Developments with Nutrient Management Regulations: Dwight Dotterer, nutrient management program administrator of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Hot Legal Issues in Agriculture & Environment: Jon Mueller, vice president for litigation at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.