EASTON — Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic lawmakers have reached a deal on the highly debated Phosphorus Management Tool.
The Phosphorus Management Tool, or PMT, aims to reduce the amount of phosphorus-rich fertilizer a farm can spread on a particular field. Farmers, especially on the Eastern Shore, use chicken manure as fertilizer for their crops, but too much nutrients like phosphorus in the soil can run off into the Bay and adversely effect water quality.
The regulations had the agriculture community worried about what would happen to all the extra chicken manure, a cheap and readily available source of fertilizer, and the economic cost it would incur to ship it elsewhere coupled with not being able to use that manure.
After years of a PMT teetering on the brink of being implemented, outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley, in a last ditch effort before Hogan was inaugurated, submitted emergency PMT regulations. The regulations were pulled by Hogan hours after his inauguration.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, submitted regulations to the General Assembly that mimicked O’Malley’s. Meanwhile, the Hogan administration released its own version of the PMT regulation, calling it an “enhanced” version that takes the concerns of farmers into mind.
Hogan’s proposal, however, was criticized by environmentalists and Democrats who supported Pinsky’s bill.
The governor’s proposal included a delay of the PMT’s implementation if there wasn’t an adequate capacity for alternative uses of the manure. Opponents of Hogan’s proposal called that a loophole that could have delayed the regulation’s implementation indefinitely, and criticized the regulations for not having a date outlined for final implementation.
According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, two changes were made to the regulations proposed by Hogan on Feb. 23, which now are set for publication in the Maryland Register on April 3.
“Our organizations would have liked to have begun using the Phosphorus Management Tool four years ago, as Maryland promised, and as the science dictated,” said the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition in a joint statement released Wednesday, March 18, which is the night the PMT consensus was announced.
“Nevertheless, these revised regulations represent progress toward reducing pollution from agriculture — which we absolutely must do to protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways, as well as public health,” the joint statement reads.
Hogan, Democratic lawmakers, and agriculture and environmental groups agreed on a final implementation date of 2022, which can be extended to 2024 if there is not adequate capacity to handle extra chicken manure.
The newest version of the PMT also creates an expert advisory committee to evaluate the infrastructure and capacity available to manage additional manure as farmers transition to the PMT, according to MDA.
The committee is allowed to make recommendations to the secretary of agriculture should it feel an extension of PMT implementation is necessary.
The agreed-upon PMT now includes two one-year delays for PMT implementation, providing farmers with what Delmarva Poultry Industry Executive Director Bill Satterfield called a “release valve” if there is not adequate capacity for alternative manure uses.
“(The release valve) is essential, because if 20 percent, or 30 percent, or 90 percent of the farmland in the major chicken growing areas of the Eastern Shore no longer can accept manure, then there’s no home for it,” Satterfield said.
Without the release valve, Satterfield said chicken growers who cannot use the manure on their own farmland, or other farmers it was made available to but can’t use it either, would have chicken manure pilling up as a result.
“If they have no home for the manure, then improperly storing it could be an environmental problem. If they cant remove it from their chicken houses, and their inability to remove it means they may not get birds from the chicken companies who want it removed, then they don’t get birds, they don’t get income,” he said.
Satterfield said DPI was among the stakeholders included in the discussions with the Hogan administration and lawmakers, and is pleased with the final results and appreciates Pinsky and Del. Stephen Lafferty, who sponsored the PMT bill in the House, being a part of the conversation.