O’Malley reps offer little input about PMT plan

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Dec. 9, 2014) — John Griffin and Olivia Campbell, the chief of staff and assistant chief of staff, respectively, for Gov. Martin O’Malley, didn’t have a whole lot to say last week when asked about the governor’s decision to barrel forward with its controversial phosphorous management tool plan before he leaves office next month.
The two nervously sat before a polite but frustrated Maryland Agricultural Commission, which had written a letter protesting the tool — known as the PMT — that will regulate excess phosphorous that runs off farms into the Chesapeake Bay.
Griffin and Campbell attended the Dec. 2 meeting in response to the letter.
Several commission members said they feel the state and federal governments ask too much of the farming community even as it aggressively works to tackle issues such as nutrient management.
Others said they lacked confidence in the state’s solution to dispose of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of chicken manure that wouldn’t be able to be spread on farmland — a plan projected to cost farmers between $22 million and $52 million.
“It’s not that the administration is not unconcerned,” Griffin said. “Life is about trying to balance these interests out.”
Douglas Lechlider, the commission’s turf industry representative, lamented that the state’s study of the phosphorus tool — undertaken by Memo Diriker, an economist at Salisbury University — did not include analysis of the new restrictions’ economic impact on agriculture in the state.
Some farmers have said they fear the tool could kill the poultry industry, which would endanger agriculture statewide.
“I think we did the best we could in the time we had,” Griffin said. “I don’t know what else to say. It is what it is.”
Another commission member said he feared the tool would survive but the funding for state subsidies to help cover the cost of manure transportation and other tool costs would eventually die, perhaps under incoming Gov. Larry Hogan, while the regulation would remain.
Campbell said the farming community would need to rely on its strong history of advocacy in the state to prevent that from occurring.
A 30-day public comment period regarding the tool legislation also began Dec. 1 before the agriculture department expects to adopt the new regulations in mid-January, according to a department timeline given to the commission.
The PMT would be phased in over six years, focusing on farmers who have the largest amount of phosphorus in the soil based on testing. The PMT would limit the amount of organic fertilizer farmers on phosphorus-heavy soil could use, forcing them to likely use alternative fertilizers. They can also use alternative technologies to reduce the amount of phosphorus in their fertilizer, though several commission members questioned how many farmers would adopt those new technology practices and how successful they would be.
Andrew McLean, a poultry industry representative on the commission, said he was frustrated the state didn’t reward credits for positive things farmers do to reduce phosphorus already, including the number of trees on their properties.
“When you all come at us like this it makes me want to cut down every tree and spray Roundup,” he said.
Credits for wooded areas that consume excess phosphorus could be considered, Campbell said.
Marian Fry, the commission’s organic farming representative, said she feared the PMT was part of a larger mission among environmental groups to rid Maryland of animal agriculture. Griffin said he didn’t believe that was true and said the major environmental groups in the state are not working to that end.
“As farmers our mandate is to produce food,” Fry said. “Food is not an option.”
Meanwhile, Hogan has voiced opposition to the PMT, favoring alternatives such as dredging behind the Conowingo Dam to improve the Bay’s health.
Griffin said it remained unclear whether the regulation would survive the change in administration.