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Taking a close look at MDAR’s new farm compost regulations

August 30th, 2019

By Karen Schwalbe, SEMAP Executive Director

Sometimes the rules need breaking and other times just tweaking.  Which will it be?  Right now, Massachusetts farmers have a chance to comment on the new on-farm composting regulations proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (MDAR).  Earlier this month I attended a listening session on these proposed regulations and wanted to share my concerns and to encourage our local farmers to comment to MDAR on the changes.  The more voices MDAR hears, the more likely we will see favorable changes.

The recently proposed changes the Agricultural Composting regulations were spurred by a neighborhood dispute in Central Massachusetts.  While the farmer’s activities were legal and met all existing regulations, the effect of odor on the neighborhood instigated a complaint to their State Senator.  The bill filed as a result of this conflict was vetoed by the Governor and now MDAR has the opportunity to issue a revised set of regulations.

The 2019 proposed regulations have aspects that could make existing farm composting operations unviable. While it is certainly a much better set of regulations than the 2018 version, there are still aspects of the regs that farmers find problematic.  Some of the concerns relayed at the meeting and in conversations with farmers include:

Using the phrases “public nuisance” and “unacceptable” in regard to odors.  These terms are too subjective and will be defined differently by each town.  This is not reasonable language and should be better defined to avoid subjective interpretation.

A requirement for 25% minimum use of on-site materials in the compost.  Farm capacity varies and flexibility is needed to meet different farms’ needs. 

The requirement that a minimum of 25% of the compost must be used on the property.

No more than 10 acres and no more than 10% of a property.  This does not take farm size into account and imposes arbitrary regulations or the variation in agricultural production. 

75 ton/week maximum intake – this is hard for cranberry waste composting where the material has seasonally high volume. 

The maximum on-site volume of materials (compostable materials, compost and mixing materials, and finished compost) shall not be more than 15,000 yards.  Finished compost should not be included in the total on-site materials. 

• A 2-year moratorium for newly established farms to apply for a permit

• One-year renewals on registrations are unnecessary.  Two year (or longer) permits and annual inspection would be sufficient. 

Relevant Sources & Comment Opportunity:

The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, where I am a steering committee member, has a detailed analysis and recommendations on their website.

The regulations and the proposed amendments can be found on MDAR’s website

The deadline for written comments on these regulations is September 3, 2019. Comments should be emailed to Dorothy Du at MDAR.  Dorothy.du@mass.gov or by mail to Dorothy Du, 251 Causeway Street, 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02114-2151.

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