Maryland yanks rule limiting the use of manure as fertilizer…again

Anne Havemann

Nov. 21, 2013

Lately, press releases from the Maryland Department of Agriculture read like a broken record:

MDA Withdraws Phosphorus Management Tool Regulations; Department to Meet with Stakeholders and Resubmit Regulations 

-- August 26, 2013  

MDA Withdraws Phosphorus Management Tool Regulations; Department to Consider Comments and Resubmit Regulations

--November 15, 2013

The second headline is from this past Friday when MDA withdrew a proposed regulation aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay by restricting the use of manure to fertilize crops.

Manure is full of phosphorus, one of the nutrients choking the Bay. Indeed, manure runoff accounts for 26 percent of the phosphorus in the estuary. The proposed “phosphorus management tool,” developed at the University of Maryland, would have helped determine which fields were over-saturated with the nutrient. If the soil contained too much phosphorus, the farmer could not apply manure to fertilize that field.

As the agency’s press releases show, this is the second time MDA has pulled back its attempt to limit manure usage. An emergency regulation that was supposed to have gone into effect this fall was withdrawn in late August after the farm lobby complained that it could cripple the state’s poultry industry. MDA withdrew the rule this time after agricultural groups once again complained of its economic impact.

The abandonment of the manure-management tool comes at the same time that a new CPR report warns that the state’s regulation of industrial animal farms is lagging. According to CPR President Rena Steinzor, the two are closely connected.

“The common bottom line is that if we want a clean bay, we need to stop running scared from the Farm Bureau. Agriculture produces 50% of nutrient loading. If farmers and meat producers don't pitch in, the Bay will become saturated with dead zones. Requirements must be reasonable and cost-effective, but they must exist. The Farm Bureau has convinced everyone that it's either put farmers out of business or stop Bay restoration. Responsible government would reject this false choice.”

Billions of dollars in economic losses will confront other sectors, especially tourism, if the state fails at restoring the Bay. It’s time for Maryland to get serious about regulating agriculture—the source of half the Bay’s pollution

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