Bipartisan bill updates nutrient law in Del.
DOVER, Del. — A bipartisan bill in the Delaware legislature seeks to update multiple parts of the state’s nutrient management law.
The bill, HB 122, was introduced on April 20, at the request of the Delaware Department of Agriculture. Its primary sponsors are Rep. William Carson, D-Dist. 28, and Sen. Russell Huxtable, D-Dist. 6, both chairmen of the agriculture committees in their respective chambers, and five Republican lawmakers have also signed onto the bill as sponsors.
Carson referred questions on the bill to the agriculture department.
The bill would update the 1999 state law to better align with the state’s nutrient management regulations that were developed after the law initially passed and have been updated periodically said Chris Brosch, administrator for DDA’s Nutrient Management Program. If passed, it aligns between the regulations and the law what is required to be included in farmers’ nutrient management plans, clarifies rules for phosphorus and nitrogen application and streamlines procedures for handling complaints.
“Really, it’s a science and language update that became necessary from some of our inspections,” Brosch said.
Last summer, Brosch said the state’s Nutrient Management Commission became aware of ambiguities in the law that could be interpreted differently than the Nutrient Management regulations that farmers and their plan writers follow.
Brosch said the state’s Nutrient Management Program sought feedback from farmers on the commission and and certified nutrient management plan writers, commonly called crop consultants. By November, the commission had adopted the recommended new draft language for the law.
“They were tremendous,” Brosch said of the commissioners and plan writers who gave input. “They were heavily involved and engaged.”
In the bill, to match the regulations, farmers would have to include aerial photographs for field maps that show field identification boundaries, acres, location of surface waters, irrigation systems and location of designated sensitive areas with associated nutrient application restrictions or setbacks; results of approved risk assessment tools for nitrogen, phosphorus, and erosion losses; and animal information including types, number, average sizes, annual manure generation and any manure imported or exported from the operation.
Regarding nutrient application, the bill would update the law on phosphorus application rules based on Delaware Phosphorus Site Index Scores, which Brosch said have been included in the regulations for many years.
The index, developed by the University of Delaware, is a management tool that assesses the relative risk of P loss from agricultural fields.
It evaluates 12 characteristics related to phosphorus transport, source and management factors to obtain an overall rating of the potential for phosphorus loss at a site.
The bill would update the law to restrict phosphorus application on fields with a fertility index value (FIV) of 500 or higher and all fields with FIVs exceeding 499 must have a Phosphorus Site Index assessment prior to phosphorus application.
Fields with FIV below 500 but above 150 must have a PSI assessment, unless the total planned phosphorus application to a crop rotation does not exceed the phosphorus removed by all crops in the rotation. In the bill, crop rotation is defined as “a series of crops grown in succession on a field, not to exceed 3 years.”
Since the law was passed, FIV has become a reliable measure soil phosphorus through field research and advancement in technology, Brosch said.
“That’s new science that’s following the evidence and updating that language,” Brosch said.
The bill also would add flexibility that in addition to nitrogen application rates limited to the application rates published by the University of Delaware of the specific crop, an adaptive approach can be used to adjust in-season nitrogen application rates based on recommendations from a certified plan writer or a nitrogen application model approved by the Nutrient Management Commission.
The bill also would revise complaint and enforcement procedures for the Nutrient Management Program by removing redundant jurisdiction from the Justice of the Peace Courts, and authorizing the commission to impose fines for violations and authorizing the commission to create a hearing panel to review and hear complaints and make proposed orders to be reviewed by the commission for a final decision.
Brosch said the law’s complaint and enforcement language had not been reviewed for revision since it passed in 1999 and the changes were suggested by the Deputy Attorney General assigned to the commission.
He added the likelihood a complaint is not settled amicably and requires a hearing is “very, very, very rare.”
The House Agriculture Committee must have a hearing for the bill within 12 legislative days of its introduction.
Don Clifton, executive director of the Delaware Farm Bureau, said he had reviewed the bill and referred it to the Farm Bureau’s legislative affairs committee for review and feedback.
“As the bill progresses we may have further comment,” Clifton said.