After taking down former Governor Martin O’Malley’s proposed phosphorus management regulations this past January, current Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has moved ahead with revised regulations. While the most recent regulations will lead to less phosphorus runoff to the Chesapeake Bay, Hogan’s revisions push back implementation of phosphorus management on Maryland farms, and delay the much-needed cleanup of the Bay.
Hogan’s regulations will put into place the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), replacing the current Phosphorus Site Index for many of Maryland’s agricultural fields. The regulation will divide Maryland farmland into three tiers, based on the phosphorus fertility index value (P FIV) (phosphorus levels found in the soil). The highest tier (Tier C) will include farmlands with a P FIV of 450 or greater. These farms with the highest levels of phosphorus in the soil will be the first to begin implementation of the PMT. This means that farmers will have to measure and monitor soil phosphorus levels and apply amounts of manure fertilizer dependent on preexisting phosphorus levels. Farms with a P FIV of 400 or greater will likely have to stop using chicken manure (heavy in phosphorus) all together until the P FIV significantly decreases.
The second tier (Tier B) includes farms with an average P FIV of 300 and greater, but less than 450. The third tier (Tier A) includes farms with an average P FIV of 150 and greater, but less than 300.
The biggest difference between O’Malley’s proposed PMT, and the PMT regulations that Hogan has revised and reissued is timing. Hogan allows the farmers a little more leeway with implementation of the PMT. Farms with a P FIV of 400 or greater, while they must transition to the PMT sooner, are allowed the longest time to reach full implementation. These farms will face the greatest cuts, but will have the greatest amount of time to comply. In addition, the regulation will not begin to take effect until later than O’Malley’s original proposed PMT. Now, the PMT will not be fully implemented until 2022, across all three tiers.
It is good news that Hogan’s office has decided to implement the PMT, and was able to reach a compromise between Hogan’s own proposed regulations, and lawmakers who endorsed O’Malley’s former proposed regulations. However, full implementation of the PMT is still a long way off. Transition from the current Phosphorus Site Index for farms with the highest levels of phosphorus in their soils (tier C) does not begin until 2018; tiers B and A do not begin transition until 2019 and 2020, respectively. While Maryland is not the only state contributing to phosphorus pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, their chicken feeding operations, and the tons of chicken manure used as fertilizer on state croplands means that Maryland contributes a significant amount to phosphorus loads in the Chesapeake Bay. (10% of the phosphorus in the Bay is estimated to come from the Eastern Shore alone, where many of these chicken farming operations take place). I would argue that for the Bay, every little bit helps, and it’s never too soon to begin implementing regulations that will improve water quality in the estuary. Bay health is overall still pretty poor – the Chesapeake scored a D+ on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s most current report card- while populations of blue crabs, underwater grasses, and oysters are still at extremely low levels. Changes need to be made now to improve conditions in the Bay in the years to come.
To read the revised regulations for yourself, please visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post have also published stories in recent days, if you would like to read more about this issue.