DDA, EPA gather to sign five-year memorandum of understanding
HARRINGTON, Del. — Officials from the Delaware Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed a five-year memorandum of understanding Jan. 15 during Delaware Agriculture Week, formalizing an improved relationship and communication toward better water quality and farm viability.
Michael Scuse, Delaware agriculture secretary, said working with the EPA Mid-Atlantic Region office on farming and environmental issues has improved greatly with Administrator Cosmo Servidio and the MOU helps to solidify that work after they both leave their respective posts.
“This is a document that stands for the future,” Scuse said. “The document speaks for all of you to make sure we have that continuity.”
The first-of-its kind MOU expands activities to prioritize funding, coordinate on regulatory issues, recognize farmers for environmental stewardship, and provide educational opportunities for producers.
It lists the agencies intention to hold annual meetings with state and federal leaders on priorities and activities, as well as joint trainings to ensure effective implementation of federal and state regulatory programs and continue agriculture roundtables and farm tours to foster a dialogue between EPA and the agricultural community on successes, challenges and opportunities to work together.
Under the agreement, the two agencies also will collaborate on an annual report to highlight achievements.
The MOU signing came after a roundtable discussion with farmers and agriculture service representatives to communicate issues and concerns directly to Servidio and Kelly Shenk, EPA Mid-Atlantic Region agriculture advisor.
Servidio said monthly phone calls with Scuse have been key in providing clarity and predictability to farmers regarding EPA action and the calls will continue.
Much of the roundtable discussion centered around funding for implementing more conservation practices and continuing research to improve farm sustainability.
Servidio said the EPA’s commitment to restoring the Chesapeake Bay has “not waivered one bit” but he added he is cognizant of what pressures farmers are under to stay viable.
Servidio and Shenk commented on signs of improved bay health like more grasses in the Susquehanna flats and falling nitrogen levels in many Delaware rivers.
“What you’ve done is having an impact and we need to continue it and for farmers that means more resources,” Shenk said.
Shen noted EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region received a $12 million budget increase which will be split between funding a grant program through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and helping states implement conservation programs in high priority areas.
Scuse said in Delaware, $2.9 million was added to incentivize cover crop planting and the farmer response showed there was more demand for participation.
David Baird, Sussex Conservation District coordinator, said with the added funding, there was twice as much cover crop planting statewide as in previous years.
“This first year shows that we can do it,” Baird said. “It shows we have a huge appetite.”
Shenk said the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund could be one option for helping to put in more best management practices.
“There’s tremendous potential for using it for ag practices,” she said, adding they would look at streamlining the application process.
Kenny Bounds, DDA deputy secretary, asked the EPA duo about increasing funding for agronomic research. Shenk said every state in the region has that need and their office meets with Land Grant universities in each state to understand what the top priorities are and how to collaborate better to meet those needs.
“Every state we talk to has that need to fund agronomic research,” Shenk said.
John Shepard, Caroline County Soil Conservation District manager, urged the officials to look at funding improvements to tax ditches which often have a low tax base for maintenance but help filter nutrients and trap sediment.
“They’re sediment collectors,” Shepard said. “That’s something that I think would be a huge help for agriculture, to fund improvements to Public Drainage Associations.”
Shenk said efforts are often focused on installing practices on land that drains into the ditches, but the ditches need attentionm too.
“We need to look into that,” she said.
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