The Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative

Poultry Farm copyright Edwin Remsberg

Introducing the Phosphorus Management Tool 
Maryland's Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations provide a multi-year process for farmers to transition from the Phosphorus Site Index to the PMT, an updated tool that can identify areas where there is a high risk for phosphorus runoff and guide the use of effective management practices in soils that are already saturated.

When fully implemented, the regulations are expected to help Maryland meet phosphorus reduction targets outlined in its Watershed Implementation Plan to protect and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Are All Farmers Required to Use the PMT?
Use of the PMT only applies to farm fields with high soil phosphorus levels identified by a Fertility Index Value (FIV) of 150 or greater on soil test results. Soils with high phosphorus levels are typically found on farms that have used manure or poultry litter as a crop nutrient over an extended period of time. 

If a farm field scores less than 150 FIV, the farmer may apply phosphorus to the land based on the farm's nutrient management plan and current University of Maryland recommendations.

How Does the PMT Work?
Farmers with soil FIV levels of 150 or greater are required to begin using the PMT to identify fields at risk for phosphorus loss. Future manure applications could be limited on fields with high soil phosphorus levels and farmers will be required to install best management practices to prevent the additional buildup of phosphorus in soils that are already saturated.

How Many Farmers Are Affected?
To date, soil phosphorus data has been compiled for 1,120,668 acres of regulated farmland. Approximately 20 percent of the state's farm fields have soil phosphorus levels that will require use of the PMT. 

What is the Time Frame for Implementation?
To give farmers time to make needed adjustments to their operations, Maryland’s PMT regulations are being phased in over the next several years, with full implementation expected by 2022.

What Are Tier Groups?
Tier groups have been established for farmland required to transition to the PMT based on average soil phosphorus levels. The tier group designation determines how long a farmer has to transition to the PMT. Farms with a FIV of 500 or greater have been banned from receiving additional phosphorus applications since 2015.

  • The highest risk group (FIV 450-499) began transitioning to the PMT in 2018. This group includes 96 operations managing 10,894 acres.
  • The medium risk group (FIV 300-449) began transitioning to the PMT in 2019. This group includes 252 operations managing 54,271 acres.
  • ​The low risk group (FIV 150- 299) will begin transitioning to the PMT in 2020. This group includes 1,313 operations managing 122,705 acres.

PMT Transition Advisory Committee
The Phosphorus Management Tool Transition Advisory Committee provides guidance for the program. It was established in 2015 and is chaired by the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture. 

The Committee monitors progress to determine if additional support and resources are needed by Maryland farmers who are transitioning to the PMT.

The regulations allow the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture to grant a one-year extension if it is determined that adequate resources are not available to implement the PMT. At its November 2018 meeting, the Phosphorus Management Tool Transition Advisory Committee voted to have an economic analysis performed to determine if an extension should be recommended.