PMT soil test results look to mirror spring data

Senior Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Sept. 20, 2016) — As Maryland agriculture officials continue to compile soil test results to gauge the impact of implementing new regulations for phosphorus, the data is tracking close to the numbers the Maryland Department of Agriculture released in the spring.
From updated numbers released last month, only a little more than 10,000 acres of Maryland’s vast farmland — roughly 1 percent — are being banned from any further fertilization with phosphorous as the state continues its development of the once vigorously debated Phosphorous Management Tool — the so-labeled PMT.
And, by far, most of those acres are from the three counties of Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore where, also by far, most of phosphorous-rich chicken litter fertilizer originates from.
Officials of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which is directing the statewide PMT soil testing, point out that the problem is not the enormous quantities of litter but how to get that fertilizer to those farm fields that will be able, and eager, to use it.
With the soil test survey now 72 percent complete, — that covers 930,000 of the state’s 1.2 million acres of farmland — 82 percent fall below the PMT threshold of a fertility index Value of 150.
Poultry and dairy manure could be applied as fertilizer on those very fields.
Another 17 percent, with an Fertility Index Value of between 150 and 500, will be able to apply the litter or other phosphorous fertilizer in accord with current nutrient management regulations. Two thirds of the farm fields on the Lower Eastern Shore have soil phosphorous levels with an FIV of over 500.
They will receive the full impact of the PMT and are restricted from any phosphorous application.
“This updated data is consistent with the partial data that MDA released on March 14, 2016 based on 850,000 acres reported,” said Maryland Ag Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. 
“Though a number of farmers/consultants have not yet submitted their soil phosphorus test results, we are optimistic that this data provides accurate information to help guide the department with future policies and ensure that we have the resources needed to provide financial and technical support for farmers to implement the PMT.”
Bartenfelder added that MDA was “continuing to follow up with those who have not submitted data so we can have a complete picture of soil health in Maryland.”
The PMT was advanced as an updated tool that uses the latest scientific findings to identify the potential risk of phosphorus loss from farm fields and prevent the additional buildup of phosphorus in soils that are already saturated.
The PMT regulations are being phased in over several years to give farmers time to modify their management practices.
The PMT regulations went into effect June 2015 and are part of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.