Don’t let mass balance fall away (Editorial)
With a grant from the Keith Campbell Foundation and an attitude for action, a group of dedicated farmers, Extension specialists, conservationists and poultry company representatives in 2015 set out to develop farmer-led solutions to nutrient pollution on Delmarva.
“We want to turn the page, to be valued and compensated,” said Ernie Shea, the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge early facilitator in August that year. “We are tired of being victims.”
That summer, the group released a report on new approaches to litter management for “win-win pathways for agriculture and the Bay.”
A year later, after adding more members, including several from environmental groups, it commenced work on a mass balance value.
Determining a mass balance would essentially answer the question of is there more or less poultry litter generated on Delmarva than its cropland can utilize.
Just forming the now-named collaborative four years ago was a feat in itself. At its inception, the Bay region was still in the first half of the federally-mandated TMDL pollution reduction plan and Maryland was in the infancy of phasing in the Phosphorus Management Tool into nutrient management planning following a heated debate between farmers, state regulators and environmental groups.
“The initial ‘challenge’ was, to a large extent, simply bringing together such diverse interests to work together on solutions to these important issues,” said current DLLC Chairman Kurt Fuchs after releasing its most recent report on its methods and procedures of finding the mass balance.
Grounded in mutual respect and a shared understanding of stakeholder perspectives, the group justly decided to not release final mass balance report unless full consensus was reached.
After three years of work, the Mass Balance Workgroup was at an impasse over some of the assumptions that would have to be made to fill missing data gaps.
Without consensus, the DLLC executive committee voted to press pause on the project and the DLLC released a report detailing its methods and what information would be needed to finish the project.
Without that decision of consensus, had they released a final report, its value would be that of any other past study that those on one side of an issue dismiss as poorly-performed or not using reliable data.
Unfortunate as it is, that years of work didn’t yield the results its members — and broader community — had hoped for, the real shame would be if the group threw up its collective hands altogether and retreated to their respective corners.
Fortunately, there’s no indication of that as Fuchs outlined manure storage and conservation drainage as the next steps in its search for solutions. And its Mass Balance Methods report lays a foundation for researchers to pick up the ball and run with it when better data sets are attainable.
“We are hopeful that the next iteration of this process will create a scientifically-defensible peer-reviewed mass balance report that will serve as a basis for policy making on the Delmarva,” said Kristen Hughes Evans, DLLC vice-chairman.
We share that hope. Much energy was put into forming the DLLC and pursuing the mass balance figure and there’s much to gain in keeping up that pursuit.
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