- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — Research suggests that Maryland’s farms might not be as saturated with phosphorus and nitrogen as previously believed.

The studies were presented during a conference at Patuxent Research Refuge on Thursday.

They will be the scientific foundation next month for the Nutrient Management Summit, an Eastern Shore event being organized at the request of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to consider changes to Maryland’s laws governing nutrients at farms.

“I think that some of the research we saw shows that not every farmer needs to be regulated to the extent that the state has been doing it,” said Bill Angstadt of the Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association.

Theresa Pierno, a vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she is troubled that more research wasn’t presented, particularly other studies showing that nutrient runoff from Eastern Shore farms poses a more significant risk to the Bay.

“If this is the basis they’re going to use to make decisions on the future of nutrient management, then I’m very worried,” she said. “There seems to be at least a side of this that’s missing.”

Scientists say that overuse of fertilizer, particularly manure, causes nitrogen and phosphorus to run into the Bay, hurting water quality and killing underwater grasses. Nutrient runoff was blamed for a 1997 outbreak of the fish-killing Pfiesteria piscicida bacteria.

That outbreak led to 1998 legislation requiring stringent management plans for manure-fertilized fields. Maryland and other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreed to cut nutrient runoff significantly by 2010.

Many farmers criticize the regulations, saying they created too much paperwork and too few changes.

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said he hopes this summer’s work will help develop a “consensus with confidence” in proposing regulatory changes that balance environmental protection with the economic interests of agriculture.

“There was a feeling in the agricultural community that we had gotten to the point of penalties and delays, rather than being able to accomplish the job,” Mr. Riley said.

The research included studies of phosphorus runoff and concentrations by Frank Coale, an associate professor of soil fertility and nutrient management at the University of Maryland. Mr. Coale found that far fewer farms than previously thought appear to be in danger of letting major amounts of phosphorus run off into the bay.

Douglas Parker, an associate professor of water resources at the university, subsequently presented studies concluding that “there is enough cropland on the shore to take all of the poultry litter.”

The research will be summarized at the start of the Aug. 5 summit, which is then expected to focus on policy and regulations.

“We want to go into the policy discussion with the latest research and bring everyone to the same place,” said Ryden N. Powell III, assistant secretary of the state Department of Agriculture.

He said the recommendations could lead to regulatory changes or administration legislation in next year’s General Assembly session.

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