Reducing the runoff of phosphorus pollution from farms is important to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Many farms, especially on the Eastern Shore, have excessive levels of phosphorus built up in their soil from years of using poultry manure as fertilizer. The pollutant runs off into streams when it rains.
Proposed regulations from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration that were scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday would have prevented many Eastern Shore farms with high phosphorus levels from applying more manure. But on Monday, the administration rescheduled the hearing, delaying it until an unknown future date, perhaps this winter. The delay came because of because farmers protested that they need more time to prepare for the change.
The proposed phosphorus rule raises a major question: What to do the vast amount of poultry manure that is produced on Delmarva, but not needed as fertilizer on Delmarva farms? Some is already trucked off the peninsula to fertilize farms and gardens elsewhere, and there is talk of burning poultry waste to generate electricity. But transportation of the waste is not easy or cheap; and burning poultry manure can potentially create air pollution.
A solution of some kind to the problem is needed, because reducing phosphorous is a key part of of Bay cleanup plans and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
In the Bay Journal blog, writer Rona Kobell provides some context behind the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s decision to delay the hearing for the phosphorus regulations. “Did Maryland’s ag department chicken out on manure regulations?” Kobell asks in the headline of her article. But then she answers in her conclusion: “If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. And it seems that the Maryland Department of Agriculture is trying to do it right.”
That may be true –- as long as the state agency remains vigilant in implementing the phosphorus regulations (which have been years in the making) and following the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
To read Kobell's article on phosphorus in the most recent Bay Journal, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation