Green groups urge stricter farm fertilizer limits

Environmental groups are calling on Maryland officials to tighten new limits on farmers' use of animal manure and sewage sludge for fertilizer, saying rules recently proposed by the state don't go far enough.

A coalition of 20 green groups says the "nutrient management" regulations proposed by the state Department of Agriculture contain "progressive elements (but falls) short of both what is possible and what is necessary."

The groups urging tighter farm pollution rules include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club and an assortment of generally more activist waterkeepers.

Farming and local government groups have objected that the proposed rules are costly and largely unnecessary, and state officials eased a few provisions in response.

Environmental groups, though, want even tougher limits, arguing that agriculture remains the largest source of Chesapeakey Bay pollultion and that manure accounts for half of the runoff from Maryland farms.  They contend the proposed rules on fertilizing fields are looser in key respects than limits imposed on farmers raising large flocks of chickens or herds of livestock, making it possible for more polluted runoff from the more lightly regulated fields.

They urge eight changes in the rules, including moving up from 2016 to 2014 the wintertime ban on applying fertilizer to farm fields.  They also want tighter limits on storing manure or sludge in fields, keeping fertilizer farther away from drainage ditches and streams and barring the applicaiton of any manure or sludge on fields already saturated with phosphorus, one of the plant nutrients responsible for the vast "dead zone" that forms every summer in the bay.

The proposed rules, published June 29 in the Maryland Register after months of back-and-forth with farm groups and environmentalists, are scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday (July 10) before the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel in Annapolis.  The session will be in the joint hearing room of the Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle.

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