10/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
SALISBURY, Md. — Hundreds of farmers turned out to blast Maryland’s proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations at a meeting Tuesday night at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.
The Phosphorus Management Tool, or PMT, is designed to protect the environment by preventing too much phosphorus from being applied to farmland since nutrient runoff is considered a major source of pollution in waterways.
Developed by the University of Maryland, it will replace the current Phosphorus Site Index and will apply to farms where soil phosphorus has a fertility index value of 150 or more.
On July 11, the Maryland Department of Agriculture petitioned the Joint Committee on Administration, Executive and Legislative Review of the General Assembly to give emergency status to the PMT regulations so they would be in place for the fall planting season. But the department withdrew the petition on Aug. 26 amid concerns raised by both the farming and environmental communities.
Critics have argued the regulations could have a major economic impact on both poultry farmers and other farmers who use manure. They say the state needs to slow down, study the issues and take a more measured and cautious approach.
The farmers who packed the center Tuesday argued the state is moving too quickly on the regulations and that the impact on the state’s biggest industry could be huge.
They urged Maryland’s Department of Agriculture to “stand up” to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and to put farmers first. Many said that farmers, particularly Maryland farmers, are being asked to do too much.
“It’s nice to be first in many things, but it sure as hell isn’t nice to be first in Maryland when you’re having regulations shoved down your throat,” said Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
Shockley said there are approximately 11 million chickens in his district of Worcester County.
Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance said the EPA and the world hold local farmers to a different environmental standard because the “Chesapeake Bay is a world-watched estuary.”
Hance told the audience cover crop programs have helped Maryland farmers meet early environmental goals to reduce phosphorus pollution. He said the state’s two-year milestones, which are mandated by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, show Maryland farmers have exceeded early goals.
Maryland farmers were at 130 percent of their nutrient reduction goal according to the last set of two-year milestones reported in 2011. But officials said there is a long way to go to the 2025 goal of having all agricultural pollution controls in place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Hance argued his department has tried to walk a fine line and has been criticized both for rushing and delaying the regulations.
“This is bad legislation, all in all,” said Lee Richardson of the Wicomico County Farm Bureau. “How about a save-the-bays tax? You say these regulations are what people want, so let them foot the bill.”
Many speakers seemed frustrated by a lack of specific answers to questions about the potential economic impact on farmers, how far manure would have to be transported and similar concerns.
“I apologize to the farmers who showed up tonight and were not told to bring boots, because it’s getting deep,” said Richardson.
“Everybody here is going to lose thousands of dollars,” said one farmer.
“Don’t give me more regulations,” said another. “We need time. Time is on our side, I hope.”
Kevin Anderson, president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, said losing poultry manure as a fertilizer could cost him $150,000 in fertilizer costs. He added that organic farmers and potato farmers could be hurt severely by the new regulations.
“You all need to get out of Annapolis,” he said. “I know you work for the governor, but all I ask is that you don’t take out your backbone every time you go to his office.”
The new regulations will be published on Oct. 18. Farmers and others will then have 30 days to comment on the proposed regulations before they can be acted upon.
Another public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Talbot County Community Center, 10028 Ocean Gateway in Easton.
Several of those at Tuesday’s meeting urged farmers to deluge Maryland’s Department of Agriculture with comments.
“I don’t know if you are wasting your time in sending in comments, but let’s flood them,” said Bill Satterfield of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., or DPI.
Hance also urged farmers to make their wishes known.
“It’s very important your voice is heard . . . I can assure you there are others out there who do not think we have gone far enough.”