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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


New phosphorous rules announced by ag dept.

(Dec. 4, 2014) After months of speculation and political intrigue, the Maryland Department of Agriculture announced proposed phosphorus management tool regulations on Monday, Dec. 1.
The six-year phase-in of regulations carry a projected cost of $22.5 million, according to a study released last month by the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University.
The department published the proposal in the Maryland Register on Monday, triggering a mandatory 30-day public comment period that will end on Dec. 31.
Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said the proposed regulations came “at the direction of Gov. Martin O’Malley.”
“While Maryland farmers have met all of the nitrogen goals under the Watershed Implementation Plan [WIP], there are concerns with obtaining agriculture’s phosphorus goals,” he said in a statement on Monday. “The governor has been committed to adopting the regulations to fulfill Maryland’s commitment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Maryland’s WIP to update the current phosphorus risk assessment tool.”
Advocates of phosphorus regulation say the nutrient, found in chicken manure often used as a crop-boosting fertilizer, also increases the growth of algae in the Chesapeake Bay, which it enters via rain-induced run-off into its tributaries.
“They say nitrogen and phosphorus create these algae blooms that deplete the oxygen in the bay, and therefore animal life cannot survive those conditions,” Hance said.
The management plan applies to farms where soil phosphorus has a Fertility Index Value [FIV] of 150 or more. The measurement, determined by a soil test, compares the amount of phosphorus in the soil with how much is needed to grow crops. Farmers with high phosphorus levels could be required to reduce or eliminate the application of fertilizer containing chicken manure to their fields.
Hance said he did not know how many Maryland farms would qualify as having high FIV counts, although he speculated it could be as many as 80 percent in the lower three counties on the Eastern Shore, where the majority of phosphorus runoff occurs.
“The historical poultry litter applications that have been going on there has created high phosphorus levels in those soils,” he said.
The study, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and written by Salisbury professor Dr. Memo Diriker, included three phase-in scenarios. The longest, at six years, allowed more time for infrastructure development and farm operations planning. Diriker maintained that incremental change would be easier on the farm community and would help defer costs, both public and private, over a longer period.
“After we looked at Dr. Diriker’s work and looked at the impact, we were just trying to figure out a way to spread out those impacts, to help farmers make the adjustments in how they operate their farms, the financial considerations will come into play, and to give the state more time to provide resources to help them through this transition,” Hance said.
Conditional provisions within the proposed regulations allow organic farmers to apply a limited amount of phosphorus “under certain conditions.” Vegetable and tobacco crops with higher phosphorus needs could see exceptions from some restrictions, along with farmers who adopt “new technologies” to reduce phosphorus levels.
Regulations could go into effect as soon as January 16.
“By statute the department cannot adopt the regulation until 45 days after it’s been published,” Hance said. “It can take longer than that, but it can’t take any less than that.”
Hance said he expects to receive comments from “all the stakeholders.” A delay could occur if MDA makes a substantial change to the regulations.
“If we receive comments about something very glaring that we missed – an impact, or maybe language in the regulation that was improperly worded that did not reach the intended goal – we would have to go back and start over again through the regulatory process,” he said. “I would expect that we’re going to get a lot of comments from both sides of the issue, and we will consider each and every one of those.
“Today, honestly, I don’t have an expectation or prediction, but we’re going to follow the process the way it’s laid out and we’ll see where that takes us,” Hance continued.
Comments can be mailed to Buddy Hance, Secretary, Maryland Department of Agriculture, 50 Harry S Truman Parkway, Annapolis, Md. 21401. Hance can also be reached by phone at 410-841-5881, by email at or by fax at 410-841-5914.