August 15, 2019

Comments Needed on Proposed Composting Regulations

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has proposed composting regulations that, if adopted as written, would be detrimental to the sustainability of farms that rely on their composting operations for revenue or soil building/fertility as well as adaptation to climate change. Details about the proposed changes are here

Our overall concerns with the proposed regulations are that they are open to interpretation, portions are difficult for farmers to meet, and they use language that is directly from the commercial composting regulations, some of which may be inappropriate for on-farm operations.

Public hearings have already been conducted and the public comment period has been extended to September 3, and the more comments that are submitted the greater imperative MDAR will have to make changes. The Collaborative invites you to use all or part of two documents we have prepared: a comment letter and detailed comments, in creating your own responses. And please feel free to pass this along to your networks.

Adding information about your organization or business and/or brief background statement on why this is important to you will make for a more effective comment verses a simple cut and paste. We know this is a busy time of year though. If cutting and pasting to your letterhead is what you have time to do, please feel free do that.

Comments should be submitted to or by mail to Dorothy Du, 251 Causeway Street, 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02114-2151.

If you are not in a position to send in your own comments we invite you to sign on to the Collaborative’s submission. While that will not create the same imperative for MDAR as sending your own letter it is still meaningful. We have provided a quick and simple way to sign on to ours. Please sign on by completing this form.

There are many things that concern us about these proposed regulations. The top 5, in no particular order, are:

  1. Using “Public Nuisance,” language in the regulations. Legally, public nuisance is only defined by a board of health. As such this language should not be used by MDAR. Doing so invites misinterpretation by lay people, opens the door to litigation, and suggests local board of health involvement in ag composting.
  2. Requiring a farm to have been operating for 2 years before applying for a permit. There is no public safety reason for this regulation. This puts beginning farmers, especially perhaps organic farmers, at a serious disadvantage, as well as established farmers who may be reclaiming old farmland that has not been farmed for a while and may have the greatest need of organic material.
  3. Requiring a “Site Plan Map” in the application. Site plan maps in public regulation most often mean a plan (as required in commercial construction) that entail the use of a civil engineer, land surveyor, possibly an environmental impact assessment, etc. This is likely to be an excessive burden on farmers which is not currently contained in regulation.
  4. Using “unacceptable odors” in the regulations. The term “unacceptable” is subjective. Composting, as with other agricultural operations will often generate odors. Using the term “unacceptable” subjects farmers to litigation based on personal interpretation.
  5. Stating that “The Agricultural Composting Operation must not limit the Applicant or Owner’s ability to maintain the Agricultural Unit as an commercial agricultural entity.” The use of “limit” is too vague and highly subjective. This places farmers in an untenable position of having others, potentially those with no farming experience in deciding how they must operate the farm.

If you have any questions, please contact

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