ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently concluded its discussions with key stakeholders to clarify and fine tune how the Phosphorus Management Tool regulations will work and how they will be applied.
Also, MDA agreed to hold briefings to inform farmers of the new proposal prior to the 30-day public comment period, which begins with publication in the Maryland Register.
“We appreciate the input we received from the agricultural and environmental representatives who met with us, and we believe that the revised proposal addresses their concerns,” MDA Secretary Buddy Hance said. “The O’Malley administration remains 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.”
MDA will host three briefings in late September to early October on the Lower Eastern Shore, Mid-Shore and in Frederick County. During these briefings, MDA will explain the Phosphorus Management Tool regulations and the process by which they were developed and revised.
MDA also will outline resources available to farmers to help them manage the impact of the regulations and answer any questions or address any concerns farmers may have.
The revised proposal will include a phased-in approach to give everyone adequate time to understand how the tool will work and what it means to an agricultural operation.
During the phase-in, farmers’ nutrient management plans will be developed using the existing Phosphorus Site Index for management purposes and the new Phosphorus Management Tool also will be run to inform the farmer of management changes that will be required when the new tool is implemented.
All nutrient management plans developed after Oct. 1, 2014, will be required to use the new Phosphorus Management Tool.
Nutrient management consultants will report key information to the use of the tools, as well as excess litter and phosphorus levels to MDA. In accordance with the nutrient management law, this information will be confidential about specific farming operations, but will be released in aggregate form annually.
This information will help MDA enhance programs and offer resources to address the impact the regulations will have on farmers, especially as they relate to handling excess litter and livestock manure and managing transportation gaps. Information also will assist University of Maryland researchers in evaluating the new Phosphorus Management Tool.
MDA will also initiate a strategic outreach campaign in fiscal year 2014 targeted at the agricultural community, like grain farmers, poultry farmers and manure transporters, and the general public.
The goals of the campaign will be to educate grain farmers about the benefits of poultry litter and livestock manure, reduce stigmas associated with the use of manure as an organic fertilizer and educate the general public that there are legal requirements for use and stockpiling of manure.
Additionally, the department will meet with key stakeholders regularly to identify and address issues arising from the implementation of the regulations.
MDA had petitioned the Joint Committee on Administration, Executive and Legislative Review of the General Assembly on July 11 to give emergency status to the regulations so that they would be in place for the fall planting season. MDA withdrew the petition on Monday, Aug. 26, to address concerns raised by the agricultural and environmental communities.
The Phosphorus Management Tool will replace the Phosphorus Site Index to reflect more than 10 years of research conducted by University of Maryland scientists in collaboration with regional and national experts.
This environmental risk assessment tool identifies areas where excess phosphorus is present in the soil and where a high potential for phosphorus loss exists. It also allows farmers to evaluate management options that can reduce the risk of phosphorus losses from agricultural fields to nearby waterways.
Revising and updating the tool is an element of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan, the federally mandated document that outlines specific steps the state will take to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. The PMT will be included in the Maryland Nutrient Management Manual and incorporated by reference into the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 15.20.08.