EASTON — A public hearing date has been set for state phosphorus management regulations after they were withdrawn in late August to be reworked.
The Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee was originally scheduled to hear what was submitted as emergency regulations Aug. 28, but the Maryland Department of Agirculture withdrew the regulations Aug. 26 to give farmers more time to adjust and to respond to questions raised by the environmental community.
The new hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, in the Joint Hearing Room in the Department of Legislative Services Building at 90 State Circle in Annapolis.
The revised proposal is a phased-in approach as the new Phosphorus Management Tool replaces the currently used Phosphorus Site Index.
The regulations categorize farms by how much phosphorus is present in the soil, limiting the amount of phosphorus that could be spread on saturated fields to reduce phosphorus runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
Maryland committed to implementing the PMT by 2011, but it has been in the regulatory process since last December.
“Any suggestion that the regulations are being rushed or are not based on science is misguided and wrong-headed,” Kathy Phillips, of Assateague Coastal Trust, said.
MDA officials said the PMT would only apply to farms where soil phosphorus has a Fertility Index Value of 150 or more.
According to the Maryland Farm Bureau, about 140 soil samples were taken from lower Eastern Shore counties and analyzed by University of Maryland researchers using the PMT. The farm bureau said a large percentage scored high on the PMT risk scale.
The agriculture industry raised concerns about the new PMT regulations, with farmers saying that there are too many unanswered questions that could put them out of business.
“When our board of directors met with Gov. [Martin] O’Malley just a few years ago in Annappolis, he pledged that he would not ask Maryland farmers to do more until the farmers in surrounding states caught up with what we already accomplished,” Maryland Farm Bureau President Pat Langenfelder, a Kent County farmer, said. “No other state has come close to catching up, and no other state is proposing to adopt the PMT.”
According to the MDA regulations filed in the Maryland Register, additional management will be required on farms based on the risk of phosphorus loss from the field.
Farms with an FIV of 150 or more for phosphorus would be prohibited from using additional phosphorus on those fields, according to the farm bureau.
Farmers who can’t apply additional phosphorus will have to discontinue use of poultry litter, dairy manure or other organic fertilizer. If the crops need additional nitrogen usually obtained from the litter or manure, the farmers would have to purchase commercial nitrogen, the farm bureau said.
Plus, farmers will incur shipping costs for extra manure that’s no longer being used for spreading on local fields.
The farm bureau said that if the PMT is implemented under the current schedule, one poultry litter hauler estimated that 450,000 tons of poultry litter will have to be moved to the Mid-Shore or across the Bay Bridge annually, which equals 18,000 truckloads or 72 trucks every day, five days a week.
According to the regulations’ economic impact analysis, in cases where organic sources of nutrients, like animal manure, are applied, additional land will be required to utilize manure generated on the farm, based on the reduced rate of application.
Environmental organizations are pushing Maryland lawmakers to approve the regulations.
Tom Simpson, executive director of Annapolis-based organization Water Stewardship Inc., said the PMT reflects the results of more than 10 years of research by state, regional, national and international scientists.
“This research has provided overwhelming evidence that the PMT will serve as a critical new tool for reducing phosphorus runoff from farm fields, with no adverse impacts on crop yields,” Simpson said. “Without question, there will be both short-term and long-term environmental and water quality benefits to Maryland waters and the Chesapeake as a result of using the PMT.”
However, not all members of the AELR Committee are for the regulations, including state Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore.
“It is my belief these regulations are detrimental to the agriculture industry, the No. 1 industry in Maryland,” Colburn said.
Colburn said he hopes there will be a strong showing of members from the agriculture community at the Nov. 20 committee hearing, since “this is a regulation that threatens the entire agricultural community in Maryland.”
He said about 800 people – including crop farmers, chicken growers and other agricultural community members – attended two public information hearings in October to learn about the new PMT and provide feedback.
Regarding those meetings, Colburn said, “I have not seen this level of angst among the agricultural community in years.”
The regulations are currently in the public comment period. Comments are due before Monday, Nov. 18, and may be submitted to MDA Secretary Earl F. Hance at 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401. Email submissions may be sent to email@example.com, and the MDA can be reached by phone at 410-841-5880 and by fax at 410-841-5914.
Follow me on Twitter @jboll_stardem.