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State officials re-propose rule for measuring impact of manure

10/24/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

 MARYLAND—As expected, the Maryland Department of Agriculture on Oct. 18 issued a proposed amendment to its previously published regulation calculating the amount of phosphorus farmers are applying to their fields by using poultry litter.

The revised proposal would give farmers an additional year to transition from using an existing phosphorus site index, which is used to determine the level of phosphorus movement at a farm site, to a phosphorus management tool, which officials said analyzes areas where excess phosphorus is present in the soil and identifies where a high potential for phosphorus loss exists. During the phase in period, farmers affected by the proposed rule were directed to use both the PSI and PMT.

In Worcester County, 113 farm operations would be covered by the proposed rule, according to Renato Cuizon, a certification and licensing coordinator for the MDA. He defined a farm operation as one that either generates at least $2,500 in crops or raises least 8,000 animals in a single year. 

But Cuizon said neither the number of animals nor the manner which manure was applied would singularly require use of the PMT. The proposed PMT, he said, was designed to be a more precise way to measure the application of phosphorus and that the level of phosphorus in the soil was what would determine whether or not the PMT would be required.

According to a briefing on the new calculation tool, officials indicated by having farmers use the new tool now, they will better understand the management changes they will be required to make when it is mandated in 2015. “All nutrient management plans developed after Oct. 1, 2014 will be required to use the new PMT. After Jan. 1, 2015, nutrient plan implementation will follow the PMT, regardless of when the plan was written,” it said.

More than 400 people attended a local town hall meeting between state officials and the public at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury on Oct. 8, the Delmarva Poultry Industry reported on its Web site, which also included video of the meeting. 

In an Oct. 21 letter, Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., encouraged members to contact officials to comment on the proposed regulations. “As much as possible, we encourage you to make the letter specific about your farm and the possible impact on you,” he said. Satterfield was apparently responding to comments made by Secretary of Agriculture Earl F. Buddy Hance that the previous proposed rule had only generated a  small number of comments, suggesting that the farming community did perceive the proposal  has having a significant impact on operations.

Cuizon said when the comment period is over on Nov. 18 officials would compile the written comments and the comments received during the three town hall meetings on the proposal. After reviewing those comments, he said, officials would resubmit the proposal to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administration, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR). An emergency proposal to revise the PMT was sidelined after State Sen. Richard Colburn (R-37), who serves as a member of the AELR, called for hearings on the matter after hearing from concerned local farmers.

According to a joint study by the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Extension on Maryland Poultry, the average cost of clean-out chicken houses was $3.67 per ton, while the average cost of removing crusted over manure was $7.03 per ton. In addition, the cost to load litter for transport was estimated at approximately $8.96 per ton. 

The process has been affordable over the years because farmers had operated within a symbiotic system of transporting chicken litter from poultry farms as inexpensive fertilizer for grain farms, which in turn provided inexpensive grain as feed for the poultry farms. The farmers protested when they learned the new formula would lead to restrictions on using poultry litter, which became final in February. If grain farms are barred from receiving the manure in the future it would need to be stockpiled, they argued.

State officials said nutrient management consultants would be reporting key information to MDA about the use of the tool as well as excess litter and phosphorus levels and that while information collected on specific operations would be kept confidential, the data would be aggregated and made public annually. “This information will help farmers plan for future implementation while helping MDA enhance programs and other resources to help farmers address changes, especially as they relate to handling excess litter and livestock manure,” officials said. 

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