There has been no documentation or proof that phosphorus [or any other nutrient for that matter] actually harms the health of the Chesapeake Bay. For the last 20 years, I am aware of only one event [the pfisteria case] that suggests nutrient run-off may have resulted in a fish kill. In the absence of good science, does it make sense to kill the farms in favor of the Bay?
The fact is that Algae blooms occur annually in all of our local ponds, beginning in May or June, when the ambient temperature increases to 70-80 *F. This happens in all local ponds irrespective of nutrient run-off [ponds that are spring fed are not exempt from algae bloom], and irrespective of whether chemical fertilizers or manures are used on the drainage fields. When the temperatures decrease below 70-80 degrees again in August and September, the ponds clear-up again. I believe the same phenomenon occurs in the Chesapeake Bay. Is the problem a result of temperature increases or nutrient increases? Is it possible that we are casting blame on nutrients, when the culprit is a natural phenomenon over which no one has control?
Here is some food for thought! Which is more important – (1) to pick farmers’ pockets and/or drive farmers out of business, or (2) to protect the Bay from an imaginary problem? Do we obtain the majority of our food from the land, or the sea? The correct answer = the land! If we render the land useless, what are we going to eat?
There is nothing I can say that will alter the misguided philosophy of some citizens that the Bay is more important than our farms. So, let’s assume for a second that farmers can comply with this new rule, stay in business, produce tons of vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs, millions of chickens, transport manures from point A to point B at exorbitant expense, and actually reduce the amount of phosphorus that migrates from the land to waters of the Bay. Will the Bay be CLEAN?
Let’s assume for a second that farmers are not able to comply with this new phosphorus rule, and put their farms up for sale to the developers who will build houses, shopping centers, roads, and infrastructures. Will the Bay be CLEANER?
The three major input costs for farmers are fertilizer, seeds, and fuel. Fertilizer [manure] is a valuable asset, that should remain on the land near its’ site of production. The manure transport program is less than intelligent. Farmers should have the right to use this valuable source of fertilizer on land they own. Why should Maryland taxpayers, integrators, and farmers pay for transporting manures from point A [on farm] to point B [elsewhere]? The least expensive distribution of manure to the land is next door! To ship manure to Iowa for use on corn land merely shifts the risk of run-off from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mississippi River. What economic sense, or environmental improvement, does that make?
Another point! WHAT IS THE PROPER PHOSPHORUS LEVEL IN SOILS? WHAT IS THE PROPER PHOSPHORUS LEVEL IN WATER? WHO IS QUALIFIED TO MAKE THAT DECISION? My biggest beef with the environmental cleanup agenda is the false pretense that phosphorus levels in the soil are to creating a problem in the Bay. Really! Where is the science? What is magic about 150 ppm of phosphorus in soils? What is the phosphorus level in the Bay waters? What should it be – zero? When we regulate on emotions rather than science, we err!
The chemistry of phosphorus is rather complex. Phosphorus binds to soils, and chelates with other nutrients. If it is bound to soils, it will be available for plant growth, rather than leach into the aquifer. An argument can be made that high phosphorus levels in soils are indeed a good thing. Until we have a fuller understanding of appropriate levels of phosphorus in soils necessary for plant growth, we should conduct adequate and well-controlled, scientific studies with proper replication before implementing rules that upset the status quo on the farm. Also, rather than assume that all phosphorus run-off to the waters of the Bay are harmful, we should conduct adequate and well-controlled, scientific studies with proper replication in the waters of the Bay before implementing rules that threaten the very fiber of the farm economy.
I urge Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to ditch this rule until real science can be obtained. I urge MDA to “Protect the Farmer”, rather than “Protect the Bay” – just this one time, please!
Dr. Lonnie W. Luther, President,
Montgomery County Farm Bureau
Publishers Notes: The time to get your PMT comments into MDA and the AELR ends on December 31,2014.