Maryland farmers are already being asked to satisfy a whole new set of nitrogen runoff regulations. It’s one reason the use of the state’s new Phosphorus Management Tool, or PMT, has been postponed for at least a month.
“Poultry farmers are not opposed to the new tool,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, or DPI. “Our concern is that immediate implementation could create serious problems. An example of a successful implementation process would be the 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act, when huge changes in nutrient applications were phased in over approximately seven years. This proposed emergency project needs a similar phased-in approach.”
The Phosphorus Management Tool was developed as part of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan, which sets out specific programs and processes by which the state will meet its nutrient reduction goals for the Chesapake Bay.
The tool is based on a decade’s worth of research provided by the University of Maryland. It was developed to replace the current phosphorus site index.
Researchers believe the Phosphorus Management Tool more accurately identifies the presence of excessive phosphorus and locates sources of potentially high phosphorus runoff. The PMT helps farmers evaluate methods of managing livestock waste, including poultry litter and cow manure, and controlling nutrient runoff from fields.
Phosphorus pollution is significant because it causes algae blooms that kill underwater grasses and harm aquatic life such as blue crabs, oysters and fish.
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration had sought emergency status in order to get the regulations in place in time for the fall planting season. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review was scheduled to take up the regulations on Wednesday, but the hearing was canceled.
Environmental and agricultural organizations appear to be in agreement on the importance of environmental regulations and the complexities of implementing them.
“The O’Malley administration wants to be sure that the regulations are rolled out with adequate time for everyone to understand how the tool will work and what it means to an agricultural operation,” said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance. “We are committed to implementing the new tool in a way that is responsive to various stakeholder concerns while also ensuring our farmers have the technical and financial resources they need to comply with new regulations.”
Pat Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the withdrawal of the emergency regulations presents an opportunity to get things right.
She said the postponement “will allow MDA to work with the farm community to develop a reasonable schedule to phase-in the new phosphorus tool,” adding that farm bureau is focused on educating farmers on the PMT as well as ensuring farmers get adequate time to possibly change their operations and buy new equipment. She also said farm bureau wants more time for the state’s private organic fertilizer market to develop.
“We are confident we can do what is right for bay restoration while preserving the economic viability of our farm businesses,” Langenfelder said.
Other interested parties are guarded but hopeful about the eventual success of the regulations. Kathy Phillips, executive director of Assateague Coastal Trust, said, “We are frustrated that Maryland will now be four years late on implementation; let’s get it done.”
Josh Tulkin, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said: “We are disappointed about the delay. But what is most important is to get this tool right. We are pleased that the agricultural department will be revising it as we proposed to protect water quality.”
Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said: “The administration is responding to the concerns of both the environmental and agricultural communities. Current research makes it clear that we need to significantly reduce pollution from farm fields, but we also need to help farmers in their efforts to better manage the manure they cannot place on fields.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.