Shore Counties Seeking PMT Extension; Officials Hope For 3-Year Delay

SALISBURY — The Eastern Shore needs more time. That was the unanimous message sent when elected officials from Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties met with Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance Wednesday to discuss the new Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT).
The consensus from the shore was that the regulations should be delayed for 36 months while the state launches a far-reaching economic assessment of the potential impact on the poultry industry.
Hance told local and state officials, who were gathered together at the Tri-County building in Salisbury, that Annapolis is sympathetic to the fears the Eastern Shore has about the new PMT, which would greatly impact how much manure can be applied on many farms. This could affect the growth of corn, and by extension, the poultry industry.
“We do understand how vitally important it is and as the chairman said, we understand how important poultry is to Maryland because poultry is our number one industry,” Hance said. “And the poultry industry ripples throughout the state.”
The most prevalent concern coming from all three counties was that the PMT feels rushed and has put everyone off balance. Farmers aren’t opposed to the idea of the PMT simply because they hate any regulation, asserted Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, who promised Hance that “no one is opposed for the sake of opposition.”
However, there are serious doubts about the science behind the new regulations, which has been questioned constantly since the battle over the PMT began months ago.
Even more than the science, officials told Hance they don’t believe the state has done its due diligence in assessing how hard a new handicap could hurt the poultry industry.
“I understand the environmental side of it. But those environmentalists don’t have … their skin in the game is theoretically cleaning the bay,” said Delegate Mike McDermott. “The skin in the game down here is our economy could be technically destroyed or at least set back at a time when people can’t afford that anyways. What would 36 months cost us on this end as opposed to what it’s going to cost us on the other end, especially for something that’s not measurable?”
Hance acknowledged the point, but explained that Maryland is trying to keep on schedule with its Watershed Implantation Program (WIP). Deadlines for that WIP have already been missed.
That 36-month delay was the magic number for most of the representatives.
“Our proposal is that we delay implementation of the new regs for three years,” suggested Pollitt, “while we do a comprehensive, not a rushed, but a comprehensive, all-encompassing financial economic analysis for what it means to the industry, statewide as well as the Eastern Shore.”
Dr. Memo Diriker, of Salisbury University’s BEACON Center, emphasized the importance of such a financial study.
“When you have some of those answers, a lot of this discord goes away because everybody is on the same page,” he told Hance.
The private industry also asked for 36 months, not only for the study, but because they perceive a lack of vital equipment and services in place to facilitate the new PMT.
Hance assured the crowd that the state would take steps to make sure the chicken manure that would not be able to be used on crops under the PMT would not build up on anyone’s land, causing increased hardships.
“We said that the state owns a lot of land, we’ll find some sites, and we’ll take the litter,” said Hance. “We’ll always have somewhere for this litter to go. I never want to hear a grower say, ‘I couldn’t clean my house out because I had nowhere for my litter to go.’”
But Bill Satterfield, representing the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI), doubted that Annapolis could easily keep that promise, considering the massive network of transportation needed to move that much manure in an expeditious fashion.
“The infrastructure is not there to move all of that manure. That’s another practical consideration,” Satterfield said.
Discussion returned again and again to the actual cost to the farmers if they were forced to buy fertilizer instead of using chicken manure.
Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a poultry farmer, conducted an experiment and used some dry fertilizer instead of manure. He showed Hance the invoice of his costs, which amounted to an extra $117 per acre for where he used fertilizer.
However, Hance pointed out that Shockley could have used a cheaper type of fertilizer.
“That’s not a good example of accurate costs to grow an acre of corn. I could probably spend $1,000 an acre to grow a hundred bushels of corn if I wanted to,” Hance said.
Shockley agreed, but still felt the fertilizer he used was realistic to what many farmers would switch to under the new PMT.
A number of other suggestions and requests were given to Hance at the meeting, including an inquiry about the use of slow-release phosphorous as an alternative option from Wicomico County Council President Matt Holloway.
Satterfield also informed Hance that DPI will be forwarding him some suggestions within the next week.
All ideas are welcome, Hance said.
“If somebody will put a proposal on the table, we will look at it, but today nobody has,” he remarked. “We’re the only ones putting proposals on the table and every time I do that I get shot.”
Eastern Shore representatives will have an opportunity to further argue for a 36-month delay as well as alternative options to the new PMT at a Nov. 20 hearing on the subject in Annapolis.