(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Today the Phosphorus Management Tool Advisory Committee recommended continuing to implement the phosphorus management tool as scheduled.
The committee had considered a one-year delay while an economic study was conducted, but decided to maintain the planned schedule in its recommendation to Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder. Secretary Bartenfelder must now make the final decision on whether to delay the implementation or not.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is urging Bartenfelder to accept the recommendation. If implemented based on the planned schedule, the tool would be applied over the next three years to about 1,600 farms that encompass more than 187,000 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Maryland uses the tool to prevent too much phosphorus from being applied to farm fields. Phosphorus levels build up in fields as farmers apply excessive amounts of fertilizer—primarily in the form of chicken litter, which is composed of manure and wood shavings. Historically, poultry operations would spread the chicken litter, which is rich in nitrogen, on its fields, but the chicken litter has more phosphorus than crops could take up.
Farmers or their consultants test fields to determine phosphorus levels. Farmers with fields that are at high risk for phosphorus runoff, which encompass about 11,000 acres, were required to begin to find other ways to handle chicken litter starting in 2018. Medium risk farms, encompassing about 54,000 acres, were enrolled into the program last year, while low risk farms, making up about 123,000 acres, are beginning the transition this year and next. Without the delay, all farms with phosphorus runoff risk are scheduled to be under the phosphorus management tool by June 30, 2022.
Some individual farmers will bear the cost burden of this cleanup, while the state and poultry corporations also fund a manure transport program to help farmers move chicken litter from oversaturated fields to areas that can use the fertilizer without the risk of harming water quality. CBF believes large agricultural corporations should help more to pay for the cost of cleaning up the waste produced by their chickens.
Phosphorus is a Chesapeake Bay pollutant that fuels algal blooms in the water, which in turn reduces water clarity and can cause dead zones devoid of oxygen. Of Maryland’s five major watersheds—the Eastern Shore, Western Shore, Potomac River Basin, Patuxent River Basin, and Susquehanna River Basin—the Eastern Shore contributes the greatest amount of phosphorus to the Bay; about 1 million pounds per year or 37 percent of Maryland’s overall phosphorus loads, according to Maryland Department of the Environment data. The United States Geological Survey estimates agricultural activities on the Eastern Shore account for more than 90 percent of the shore’s phosphorus inputs.
CBF believes by fully implementing the program on schedule the state will reduce the risk posed by excessive phosphorus runoff on the Eastern Shore. Expanding the tool will also help polluted waterways, such as the Choptank, Transquaking, Nanticoke and Wicomico rivers, improve in water quality.
In response to the recommendation to continue to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool as previously scheduled, CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
“The connections between the excessive spreading of chicken manure on fields and Chesapeake Bay pollution are clear. Maryland officials know this and it’s the reason they developed the phosphorus management tool to clean up Eastern Shore waterways. The tool has been working and that’s why Secretary Bartenfelder should move forward with the committee’s recommendation and implement it on schedule. If farmers are struggling to make changes, then large chicken producers should step forward and provide additional assistance to prevent poultry waste from becoming a pollution source.”