Hogan submits PMT regulations

Extra chicken manure sits in storage on a farm in Berlin. The phosphorus in chicken manure, which is used as fertilizer on farm fields, concerns environmental groups that say it is reducing water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

ANNAPOLIS — In an effort to strike compromise between the agriculture and environmental communities, Gov. Larry Hogan released his own phosphorus-limiting regulations Monday.

“The Governor’s proposal is certainly an improvement over previous phosphorus management proposals,” said Minority Whip Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore. “It’s a compromise between the stakeholders and a sensible approach to reducing phosphorus on farmland.”

The Phosphorus Management Tool regulations start with what was proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in November and alter it several ways. It is also part of a broader “Maryland Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative,” which, according to the governor’s office, “will further Maryland’s efforts to improve water quality, strengthen the agricultural industry, and bolster rural economies.”

Hogan’s proposal delays PMT implementation by one year, starting in 2016 with full implementation by 2022, which takes it from a six-year implementation to seven years. According to the governor’s office, it allows farmers two years to develop nutrient management plans using the new PMT and the existing Phosphorus Site Index before management changes are required.

The proposal also immediately bans the use of phosphorus on sites with a Fertility Index Value — the amount of phosphorus present in the soil — greater than 500 until full implementation in 2022. This is done to immediately stop the use of phosphorus on fields with the highest likelihood of it leeching into the Chesapeake Bay.

Hogan’s PMT proposal also includes details to collect soil test phosphorus data from every farm in Maryland every six years starting in 2016. That would give the Maryland Department of Agriculture soil fertility data to monitor trends in phosphorus levels and identify potential areas to redistribute manure.

As part of the phosphorus initiative, when the regulations are promulgated, an on-farm economic analysis project is planned. MDA will recruit 10 to 12 Maryland farmers to evaluate the economic impacts of implementing the PMT on a minimum of 1,000 acres.

The farms will collect and provide farm-scale cost and crop yield data, and represent a cross section of farm types and geography, including poultry, dairy, grain and organic operations, according to the governor’s office.

Gov. Hogan also pledged to provide additional resources for the agriculture department to offset economic impacts of the PMT.

The state would also evaluate factors like markets and infrastructure to relocate manure. The plan also includes funding for the Animal Waste Technology Grant Fund for technologies that improve manure management, water quality, or create new sources of energy and products made from animal manure.

Those elements are planned to be re-evaluated as the regulation is phased in.

Hogan’s PMT proposal has already gained the approval of agriculture organizations and groups, which had input in the regulations as they were being developed.

“Since taking office, Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., and other agricultural groups have been working with Governor Hogan and his team to develop a workable, sensible, affordable program to improve water quality,” said Kurt Fuchs, president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry. “We appreciate being at the table during these discussions; not after a plan had been developed.”

According to DPI, chicken growers will have several protections when it comes to concern about handling their manure due to a reduction in available farmland application sites. Those growers will be the top choice to benefit from the state’s and chicken companies’ financed manure transport program, so the manure can be moved to a farm that can use it.

Donnie Tennyson, president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association and farmer in Dameron, said that while the PMT is primarily seen as an Eastern Shore poultry issue, the scheduled reviews during the phase-in period will ensure that dairy, beef, egg layer and hog operations in Maryland, plus Eastern Shore broiler operations, are equipped with necessary infrastructure and alternative uses to move forward with the PMT on schedule.

“We believe that this new approach is a win-win for the Bay and for the continued viability of Maryland’s number one industry and the backbone of the Eastern Shore economy,” Tennyson said.

Chuck Fry, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the development of alternative use technologies is critical to the implementation of the new phosphorus program.

“Grain farmers desire the nitrogen, micro-nutrients and organic matter that has made poultry litter and livestock manures a premium fertilizer choice for decades. Poultry growers need an alternative use option if grain farmers reduce their use of the organic fertilizer under this program,” Fry said. “We look forward to working with Governor Hogan and Legislative leaders to bring new technologies for alternative use to fruition in Maryland.”

According to DPI, if those alternative use technologies are not operating in a few years and that leads to an inadequate capacity to handle chicken growers’ manure, “there will be a relief valve to help those growers through reconsideration of the regulation phase-in schedule.”

“This is an important part of the governor’s program that Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., sought. We appreciate its inclusion in the new water quality improvement initiative,” DPI stated Monday.

Hogan’s regulations come after he stopped Phosphorus Management Tool regulations from going into effect the day he was inaugurated in January. Shortly following that, Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-22-Prince George’s, submitted a bill in the general assembly that mimics the PMT regulations proposed by O’Malley.

Hershey said the previous phosphorus management proposals were “short on data and long on theory.”

“This proposal will gather necessary data to prove what works and what doesn’t work, so that we get it right,” Hershey said. “By requiring a 1,000 acre test site starting this spring, the administration has demonstrated that any long term strategies will depend first and foremost on good data.”

Hogan’s PMT proposal was submitted as regulation to the joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, and it is scheduled to be published in the Maryland Register on April 3.

Some environmental organizations were still reviewing Hogan’s proposal and waiting for details Tuesday morning, and waiting to make a call on whether to back it or not until after a full review.

However, some stated they were pleased that Hogan is addressing phosphorus pollution.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it learned of the proposal Monday afternoon and was still hoping to get a copy of the actual proposed regulation.

“Without such details, we are withholding judgment. Once we are able to review the full proposal we hope that the Hogan Administration will allow the environmental community a chance to help shape this policy,” CBF said in a statement.

In the meantime, CBF said it will still support the legislation that mimics O’Malley’s regulations.

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said the regulations can’t be counted on as a substitute for writing the PMT into law.

“The deadlines in these regulations can be punted every year on vague criteria that can be easily manipulated by the farm lobby,” said Schaeffer, former director of civil enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency. “We’ve waited for regulations too long. We need a law to make this program certain.”

Follow me on Twitter @jboll_stardem.

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