This Week’s Headlines
Groups swift to react to study, next steps unclear
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
The release Nov. 7 of the long-anticipated study of the economic impact of the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool was greeted generally within the agricultural community on the Eastern Shore with an “Okay, but what’s next?” attitude.
Farmers also took issue with some of the cost figures which Dr. Memo Diriker of Salisbury University’s business school employed in his study and expressed some concern and anxiety with Dr. Diriker’s suggestion that the only way to establish the cost and effectiveness of implementing the PMT would be to give it a try, say for two or six years.
On the other hand, the farm community generally hailed the election of Republican Larry Hogan for governor — while lamenting the loss of several key Democrats who have consistently supported farmers and the ag industry in the state legislature.
In the PMT debate, Hogan, while on the campaign trail, stood solidly with the farmers. In response to a poll of the two gubernatorial candidates by the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Hogan had these responses:
To a question about the PMT implementtion:
“The proposed phosphate regulations (PMT) will have a potentially crippling impact on many farms, as such it should not be implemented, especially without accurate scientifically verified data and the Bay Model is updated.
“As governor, I will not allow faulty, outdated data and seemingly arbitrary soil phosphate levels to force farmers to use cost-prohibitive commercial fertilizers. Simply put, we need to get this right. Farmers have done their share and they deserve a governor who’ll fight for them.
“This starts with recognizing that a significant amount of phosphorous flows down the Susquehanna and through the Conowingo – especially during heavy rains which kick up polluted sediment in the Conowingo pond. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen and as governor, I will take action to force responsible parties to address the upstream sediment ponds.”
The Maryland Department of Agriculture, which commissioned the study, said copies of the report had been issued to the General Assembly’s House and Senate Budget Committees; the Senate Education, Health, Environmental Affairs Committee; as well as the House Environmental Matters Committee for review and a 45-day comment period.
“The study assessed all available economic and financial data and information related to the proposed PMT implementation, including the potential costs, potential benefits, and other related decision-points, from the perspective of all interested stakeholders,” MDA said. “While there is no one single figure representing the economic impact, the study considers specific variables at various levels resulting in a range of both costs and benefits.”
Asked what step was next in the processing of the report, MDA Secretary Buddy Hance said “at this point, I have no idea.”
“MDA is analyzing all information this widely-anticipated comprehensive study contains. The study provides valuable insight as we consider next steps related to the phosphorus management tool. MDA does not intend to make any further comments on the study until our analysis is complete,” Hance said.
Hance said his agency appreciated “the work of Dr. Memo Diriker and his team of advisors on this highly informative study. We will continue to work to understand the findings and balance the need to restore the Bay with reasonable protections for Maryland family farms.”
The Maryland Farm Bureau, reflecting on the estimated costs of the proposed PMT, is urging Gov. Martin O’Malley to “put the PMT on the back burner.”
“The results of Dr. Diriker’s study show that implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool would,” the MFB said, “cost the state another $39 million in subsidies to help move poultry litter and reimburse some of the cost of commercial fertilizer replacement.”
MFB urged both Gov. O’Malley and Gov.-Elect Larry Hogan “to put the PMT on the back burner while we continue to work on improvements to the Bay Model and other, more cost-effective Best Management Practices.”
Kevin Anderson, a Somerset County grain farmer and president of the Maryland Grain Producers Association has been a major spokeperson for critics of the PMT and remained critical of the new study.
“We were expecting an impact study, instead this is just a cost analysis, that seems to be full of inaccurate numbers and information, Anderson said. “It is promoted as reflecting the cost for the entire Eastern Shore of Maryland, but hardly reflects the cost for the lower three counties.”
For example, Anderson continued, “in the analysis, they are transporting 221,000 tons of manure. At an application rate of 3 tons per acre, that would cover 73,666 acres. In 2013, there were 94,963 acres of corn in the four lower counties (Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset). It is estimated that 85 percent of those acres would have poultry manure applied, which is 80,718 acres.
“Also in the analysis, they are transporting the manure 55 miles. From Somerset and Worcester counties, this would get it as far as the Walmart parking lot in Cambridge, not even moving it out of the Lower Shore. The manure is going to have to be transported much further than 55 miles. So the transportation cost is not accurate either.”
A coalition of nonprofit organizations working to “reduce pollution and increase transparency from agriculture” jumped quickly into the debate.
Spokespersons said the study “shows a new rule to better manage manure would be comparable to, or cost less than, other Chesapeake Bay pollution-reduction efforts. The study provided an overall cost estimate for the agricultural industry to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool using a phased-in approach, which advocates say shows the new rule is workable.”
“Phosphorus pollution from manure is getting worse, not better in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways. If this continues, Maryland will jeopardize the decades of progress we’ve made to clean up our waters,” said Joanna Diamond of Environment Maryland.
“It is past time to stop studying this issue and time to start acting,” said Bob Gallagher, of West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc. “Rarely can a single initiative achieve such huge pollution reductions in one fell swoop. The new phosphorus rule, like the phosphorus detergent ban of the 1980s, is one of those opportunities to really make a difference.”