On Friday, Maryland Department of Agriculture pulled its proposed regulations to implement the new Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool. The controversial PMT aimed to be more sensitive to the potential for phosphorus to move from farmland, but drew substantial criticism principally, not entirely, from the agricultural community.
There were many unanswered questions and concerns about the regulation that many believe would have destroyed the business model of the largest economic sector on the Eastern Shore, says Patricia Langenfelder, president of Maryland Farm Bureau. "We're pleased that MDA and the Governor recognize the impact of the proposed change on farmers and withdrew the proposal. We especially want to thank all of the farmers who took time from their busy fall harvest to attend the briefings and file comments."
'Sound science' debatable
"MDA is confident that the PMT science is sound," contends Maryland Ag Secretary Buddy Hance, based on 20 years of evolving federal and state research to better understand soil phosphorus and managing risk of loss to our rivers and streams."
Langenfelder disagrees. "The science is simply not ready, and the cost-benefit analysis has not been conducted," she argues. The Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors unanimously opposed PMT's adoption, noting that the restrictions would dramatically limit the use of locally-produced organic fertilizer to much of the land on the lower Eastern Shore and in many other areas of the state. This limitation will have far reaching negative economic impacts on individual poultry growers, dairymen, grain operators, support businesses and local communities.
"Our members," adds Langenfelder, "strongly believe that it makes no sense to impose this burden on farmers when at 130% we are the only sector to reach our Bay cleanup goals in the most recent analysis and are, in fact, doing more than our fair share."
Farm Bureau is also concerned that replacing organic slow-release fertilizer with water-soluble chemical nitrogen will have a much greater impact on the Bay. Chesapeake Bay Foundation agrees with this concern in their October 2013 Pennsylvania Fact Sheet entitled, Manure: Not the Leading Cause of Nitrogen Pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
In it, they emphasize that "in the case of nitrogen pollution, manure is not the leading source; rather, chemical fertilizers applied onto agricultural lands are the leading source of nitrogen pollution…"
Since no study has been conducted to analyze the potential impact of switching from organic to chemical fertilizer, it's possible that the effort to address a perceived P problem on farms will cause a new N concern, notes the Farm Bureau president.
"We say 'perceived phosphorus' problem," she adds, "because we know that the Chesapeake Bay Model doesn't currently give credit for most of the phosphorus control measures already taken on Maryland farms. It's possible that once the model is corrected and the new numbers are run, Maryland farmers will have already met their phosphorus reduction goals, without the need to implement the onerous PMT."
Regulatory battle not over
While the PMT has been stalled, it's far from dead. MDA will consider all comments and critical issues raised. Then it will develop an approach that addresses concerns raised to date, and resubmit a new proposal to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review AELR in 2014 that includes a phased implementation schedule.
Hance says, "The Administration stands behind our commitment to EPA to implement the [federally mandated] Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that ultimately provides for a healthy Chesapeake Bay. We'll meet our Chesapeake Bay restoration goals, taking every step possible to protect water quality and ensure the viability of our family farms in Maryland."