Maryland’s Manure Legislation: What it is and Why it’s needed

BY RISHON SEABORN
Staff Writer

A new bill, entitled the Poultry Litter Management Act, is making its way through Maryland’s state legislature and has the potential to pin responsibility upon Perdue farms to regulate their fertilizer usage.
Perdue, along with other big chicken companies, will have to create a change of plan with how their fertilizer is handled and some companies may have to make a more conscious effort when dealing with the manure process.
The environmental degradation that unregulated manure contributes is now becoming a high global priority, according to experts in the area.
The PLMA is in full swing, and voices concern for the effects and pollution of unregulated manure which can create an unnatural and strained ecosystem.
This new legislation, however, seeks to allow chicken companies to be more aware of the ins and outs of their chicken’s waste and its contribution to the environment.
Salisbury University Environmental Studies Adjunct Professor Bill Nelson explained the harmful effects of the mishandled manure and how the environmental demand for proper handling of waste is on the rise.
One major issue, he said, is the increasing levels of nutrient pollution within the Chesapeake Bay and chicken factories.
“There are way too many chickens on the Eastern Shore to support their waste,” Nelson said.
The growing population of chicken houses increases the amount of waste produced as well, and as a result the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen are being overloaded into the soil.
Chicken feed could be another source of worry, according to Nelson, since importing it creates an unbalance of the natural order of the ecosystem.
Substitutional enzymes have been incorporated into the chicken feed in the past as an attempt to slow the amount of phosphorus that was being consumed in addition to the soil.
The runoff of the stored nutrients provides a source of food for the aquatic plant life in the Chesapeake Bay.
“Unfortunately most aquatic plants have short lived algae blooms,” Nelson said. “They suck up the nitrogen and then they die.”
As toxic byproducts are produced the bacteria decomposition eats the blooms and creates dead zones to form.
Nelson explained this concept, comparing the toxic runoff to the overfeeding of a pet: the overflow of nutrients is being pumped into the Bay creating an unbalanced system.
The regulation of high nitrate levels in the water can vary between state and federal guidelines. This can ultimately cause birth defects and eventually the inability to metabolize oxygen.
One temporary solution to this issue is to drill deeper wells. A well as deep as a couple of feet can improve the levels of nitrates in the water, according to Nelson.
“If we looked about what the natural system needs, I think we would do just about everything differently,” said Nelson.
Nelson said that the key is to have a number of different ways to recycle byproducts to help act as prevention for toxins.
Maryland’s current system is based on the concept of constant extraction, which puts a strain on the natural tendencies of recycling.
“I feel oddly hopeful about this,” Nelson said. “It’s a big issue but I feel like in the next 10 to 15 years this issue is going to be fixed.”

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