Phosphorus discussions swell as regulations get renewed

Senior Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Feb. 10, 2015) — Phosphorus is a vital plant nutrient and its main use in agriculture — via phosphate compounds — is in the production of fertilizers.
It is referred to simply by the letter “P,” and “P” is getting a lot of attention these days in Maryland.
The control of the use of phosphorous by Maryland farmers is high on the priority list of Gov. Larry Hogan after he yanked phosphorous use regulations off the table within hours of his inauguration, because he said, they needed more study.
In his State of the State address on Feb. 4 — and again in remarks at the annual Taste of Maryland event in Glen Burnie a day later — while acknowldging that “a healthy Chesapeake Bay is key to a strong economy and high quality of life — for all Marylanders,” Hogan cautioned that “the restoration of our Bay must not fall on one group disproportionately. Placing unreasonable burdens upon Maryland’s farmers will serve only to devastate more rural communities.”.
Hogan continued: “We will work with the agricultural and environmental communities to find fair and balanced solutions for limiting phosphorus. In addition, we will take a comprehensive approach to restoring our Bay by addressing the long-ignored impact of upstream polluters, and the sediment spilling over the Conowingo Dam.”
Elsewhere in Annapolis, on the General Assembly side of the State House, legislation has been introduced in the Senate which essentially mimics the now-stalled PMT regulations.
The bill, SB 257, with Sen. Paul Pinsky as its lead sposor, codifies in legislation what would have existed only in the form of regulations.
A companion bill was expected to be intruduced in the House of Delegates. As contrasted with the use of phosphorus, the science of P was the focus of an all-day symposium, which attracted about 350 people and noted speakers from across the country to the campus of Chesapeake College on Jan. 31.
Hoping not to overwhelm the scientific presentations of the day with the invasive politics of P, participants in the symposium were asked not to mention the PMT — the Phosphorous Management Tool which the Maryland Department of Agriculture had hoped to make a part of its nutrient management regulations and which has been bitterly opposed by the state’s farmers.
The hush appeal worked.
One observer remarked: “Turnout was strong, the speakers all had different styles and only 30 minutes to speak, so the science was easier to follow and then ask questions, and a lot of conversations were going on during breaks and lunch. Overall it went well.”
Adding to the general conversation, a retired University of Maryland agronomist contends that research in Maryland during the “no-till revolution” of the 1970s and 1980s established that most soils do not require more phosphorous than precisely what would be limited by the the Phosphorous Management Tool.
“Seems like Maryland has gotten away from educating our growers and traded it for trying to police our growers by many unnecessary fertilizer regulations, said Ron Mulford, a retired University of Maryland agronomy researcher and for many years director of the university’s Poplar Hill agricultural research station near Salisbury.
“A good education program goes much further than loading one down with a book full of regulations,” he said.