New Phosphorus Regulations Postponed in Response to Rural County, Agriculture Concerns

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has withdrawn its emergency phosphorous regulations affecting the use of chicken manure, and will work further with stakeholders before re-submitting them.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Department had proposed emergency regulations that would require farmers to use a new phosphorus management tool (PMT) when creating or updating their nutrient management plans.  The new PMT could limit the ability of farmers to apply chicken and other animal manure on their fields, causing concern among both the farm and poultry communities.

The Maryland Rural Counties Coalition (MRCC), an official chapter of MACo comprising 10 of Maryland’s rural counties, has submitted a letter to Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance  requesting that the emergency hearing scheduled for August 28 by the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) be canceled and that the proposed regulations go through normal regulatory review process.   From the letter:

Agriculture is an $8.25 billion industry in Maryland and it is the position of the MRCC that the immediate implementation of the new Phosphorus Management Tool will cause severe hardship for the farmers who farm and reside in our ten counties and who raise poultry and livestock.

It is the position of the MRCC that the Department of Agriculture should issue a proposed regulation of this significance under the normal process and procedures and provide for the implementation of new regulations after the next Bay Model is released in 2017.

In response to the concerns raised by MRCC and the agricultural community, the Department of Agriculture announced on August 26 that it was withdrawing the emergency regulations and that the scheduled August 28 AELR hearing was canceled.  From the Department’s press release:

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) today withdrew its request to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) for emergency status on the proposed changes to the Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT). This action also cancels the AELR hearing on the regulation slated for next Wednesday, August 28. MDA had petitioned the committee on July 11 to request emergency status for the regulations so that they would be in place for the fall planting season.

“In order to ensure farmers have time to adjust to the use of this new tool and to respond to questions regarding certain elements of the regulation raised by the environmental community, the Department is withdrawing the emergency regulation. The Department has decided to meet with key stakeholders and will resubmit the proposal next month,” said Secretary Hance. “The O’Malley Administration wants to be sure that the regulations are rolled out with adequate time for everyone to understand how the tool will work and what it means to an agricultural operation.”

Secretary Hance added, “We are committed to implementing the new tool in a way that is responsive to the various stakeholder concerns while also ensuring our farmers have the technical and financial resources they need to comply with new regulations.”

See additional coverage in the Baltimore Sun (limited free views available).