Manure Transport Program Benefits Bay But Brings Costs

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-01-15) that a State Manure Transport Program that shares the costs of proper disposal of poultry and cow manure is facing increasing costs and could run out of money during the next fiscal year. The program pays for one-half of the costs for farmers, brokers, and poultry companies to haul manure around the Delmarva peninsula to be spread as fertilizer on fields or converted into fertilizer products such as Perdue’s AgriRecycle or Scott’s Miracle Gro Organic Choice. The program also assists Maryland dairy farmers with the hauling and soil injection of cow manure.

Maryland will likely spend more than $1 million this year on the program, and some expect the payouts to increase as restrictions to protect the Chesapeake Bay tighten. Animal waste is blamed for more than a third of the nitrogen and more than half of the phosphorus that pollute the bay. State regulations limit the amount of manure farmers may spread on their fields.

The bill nearly hit seven figures for the first time in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to state data provided to The Baltimore Sun through a public records request. Nearly half of it went to [Perdue’s Delaware AgriRecycle] facility and to the Delaware broker Ray Ellis, who said most of his grants went toward shuttling manure to Pennsylvania mushroom farms. …

The state began subsidizing the cost of transporting manure in 1998, shelling out $18,000.

Costs hit $954,000 in 2016, when tonnage surged above 200,000 for the first time.

Norman Astle, who oversees the program for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the program could run out of money this year for a second straight year. …

In the current fiscal year, $357,000 of the state money spent on manure transport comes from general state tax receipts, and $750,000 comes from the state’s Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

While the program is credited with playing a role in the recent water quality gains of the Chesapeake Bay, some environmental groups question whether taxpayer dollars should be involved.

“Other industries aren’t afforded these types of subsidies,” said Katlyn Clark, a legal fellow with Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Manure is an unavoidable consequence of growing, raising, and selling chickens — yet, larger chicken companies have essentially placed this burden on taxpayers and growers of the chickens.”

Grant recipients say they need the subsidy to help defray the cost of helping farmers comply with tightening restrictions on runoff to the bay. …

“I think the industry pays their fair share and this is something that comes back to the industry,” said Steve Lavitsky, vice president of sustainability for Perdue Farms.  …

State agriculture officials said the program has helped clean up the bay. …

“A recent report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows that bay health is improving for the first time since 1998, and I think our farmers have had a lot to do with these results,” the officials said in a statement.

The article also noted legislation was introduced during the 2016 Session by the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition that would have eliminated the transportation subsidy and placed all of the costs on poultry companies. That legislation did not pass.

Useful Links

Manure Transport Program Webpage

Perdue AgriRecycle Webpage

Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition Website