MDA seeking solution for winter storage of nutrients

Associate Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 14, 2016) — With tightened restrictions on nutrient application approaching next month, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is struggling to find storage space for dairy manure and other organic nutrients soon to be banned from fields in the winter, department officials said last week.
More than 80 dairy farms will likely be without adequate storage facilities as the department prepares for the new restrictions, which will no longer allow farmers who lack storage to spread organic nutrients in the winter, said Dwight Dotterer, chief of the state’s nutrient management program.
“It’s very serious,” he said. “Farmers cannot call us and say, ‘My pit’s ready to overflow. Can I spread?’”
The biggest challenge could come from the biosolids and food waste industries, which recently approached the department, saying they also have not developed enough temporary storage space, officials said.
Detailed information about the problem and its severity was not immediately available last week, and the department said it has planned additional meetings with representatives from both industries.
“That’s why we’re setting up these meetings now with biosolids and food waste,” said Hans Schmidt, the department’s assistant secretary for resource conservation. “We’ve been focused on agriculture and addressing their needs. … It seems like we’re getting this at the 11th hour.”
The restrictions are attached to nutrient management regulations approved in 2012 that prohibit manure and organic nutrient applications on farmland in winter. Farms abide by those restrictions already, Dotterer said, but some farmers have been allowed to spread manure — with stipulations — if they lacked enough temporary storage to last the winter, their manure was non-stackable and they could find no other way to manage it.
That’s supposed to end July 1 under the regulation at which point applying nutrients will be banned on fields from Nov. 1 to March 1 on the Eastern Shore and Nov. 15 to March 1 on the Western Shore. Farms with less than 50 animals aren’t required to comply until 2020.
But due to the amount of time it takes to design and approve  cost shared storage facilities at the local level as well as the department’s limited ability to assist farmers, the state still faces a serious storage issue, Dotterer said.
“We’ve been (helping farmers) build those structures for years and years,” he said. “We probably couldn’t do anymore than we’ve done in the last 10 years.”
Some soil conservation district offices in counties with a large number of dairy farms, such as Carroll, Frederick and Washington, he said, have backlogs of as many as 20 or 30 farmers waiting to have storage facility designs reviewed and approved, Dotterer said.
“It varies a lot,” he said. “There are some people who just don’t have storage at all.”
But the biosolids and food waste industries, which apply waste to fields, are a different story.
“I think the municipal waste and the food waste people have not been quite as aware of what they needed to do,” Dotterer said.
Synagro, one of the state’s primary waste recyclers, has some biosolids storage in Maryland, said Layne Baroldi, the company’s director of regulatory affairs. But most of its waste — and most of the industry’s as well — is transported to Pennsylvania or Virginia, which have more lenient waste management regulations, he said.
“Here’s one of the problems: With this material, in Maryland, you generate it, but you have nowhere to go with it,” he said. “If (biosolids companies) can’t store it, they’re going to have to start exporting it.”
The department’s Nutrient Management Advisory Committee briefly discussed the issue at its meeting last month, including the possible construction of large holding tanks for temporary organic nutrient storage.
However, committee members, including Schmidt, acknowledged the steep political challenge of getting a local government to approve such a facility.
The department is still crafting its response to the issue and plans to meet with the state department of the environment this month, spokesman Jason Schellhardt said.
It also has not determined how it will enforce the ban on farmers, Dotterer said.
“We’re more focused on getting them adequate storage than we are on enforcement,” he said.