MDA discusses nutrient management revisions

Associate Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (July 12, 2016) — The Maryland Department of Agriculture is discussing revising new restrictions on the application of field nutrients in winter after saying last month that some farmers and sewage treatment agencies are unprepared to comply.
Department officials debuted several proposed changes before its Nutrient Management Advisory Committee on July 5 the current restrictions, which went into effect July 1.
The proposed changes are:
• Delay the winter ban’s start date until Dec. 15 — for both sides of the Chesapeake Bay.
• Eliminate the requirement that manure and sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, be incorporated into the soil during the spring and fall seasons.
• Restore a provision enabling emergency winter spreading, into a standing crop at least 100 feet from surface waters.
“We just think that’s a mistake,” said Dwight Dotterer, chief of the state’s nutrient management program, regarding the emergency spreading ban.
MDA officials said ending the incorporation requirement would restore no-till farming on many fields, which is a widely touted best management practice.
Under the current regulation, farmers and biosolids companies cannot spread nutrients on fields from Nov. 1 to March 1 on the Eastern Shore and Nov. 15 to March 1 west of the Bay.
That regulation was first approved in 2012, giving farmers and other industries four years to prepare.
Farms largely abide by those restrictions already, Dotterer said, but some 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 was supposed to end this year. Under the department’s newest proposed changes, it may not. That frustrated some audience members at the meeting.
“I’m not sure if this is a compromise, a rollback or welching on the deal,” said Jeff Horstman, executive director of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy. “As there’s more people (in the Bay region), there’s going to be more toxic waste, there’s going to be more regulations.”
Phil Snader, owner of Enviro-Organic Technologies, a biosolids and food waste company in New Windsor, Md., asked the committee not to relax the regulations because he said he prepared his business to meet the new regulations at “significant cost” to his customers and believes it would be unfair to excuse his competitors from them.
Representatives of several municipal waste agencies expressed concerns about the ban, calling it unsustainable and costly. Officials with the town of Berlin, Md., said the town applies wastewater to forest land year-round.  
To comply with the new ban, the town would likely have to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million to build more storage — assuming it could find a site for it.
Committee members and municipal waste officials both acknowledged the relative impossibility of building large manure and biosolids storage facilities because no local political body would approve it. Biosolids and food waste are often transported to Pennsylvania and Virginia, which have more lax regulations.
“This is not a sustainable practice in the long term,” said Gary Grey, an engineer with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the primary water and sewer agency for Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Committee members also reiterated another problem that has delayed the construction of new manure storage for dairy farmers — the amount of time it takes to design and approve cost-shared storage facilities at the local level.
Some soil conservation district offices in counties with a large number of dairy farms, such as Carroll, Frederick and Washington, have backlogs of as many as 40 farmers waiting to have storage facility designs reviewed and approved.
Hans Schmidt, the department’s assistant secretary for resource conservation, said the department expects to make a recommendation on the regulation changes to Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder within the next two weeks, according to the Bay Journal.