New Report: Manure Overload on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Poultry Industry Records Reveal 75 Percent Over-Application of Phosphorus in Manure

Data from 62 poultry farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore show need for phosphorus management regulations to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Poultry operations spread three times more phosphorus in chicken manure on their fields than their crops needed, contributing to runoff pollution and fish-killing “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay, according to records from 62 poultry operations in five Eastern Shore counties in 2012.

The Environmental Integrity Project’s investigation of Maryland Department of Agriculture records found that 75 percent of the phosphorus in chicken manure applied on these farm fields was over the amounts needed for crop growth, and 61 percent of the manure was spread on land that already had “excessive” phosphorus levels.  The result was that the concentration of phosphorus in soil increased by an estimated 10 percent by the end of the growing season in 2012 (the most recent year for which records were available), increasing the risk of polluted runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

An online map showing locations of the poultry operation fields with the highest concentrations of phosphorus in the soil was created by the Center for Progressive Reform and Chesapeake Commons and is available at:

The Environmental Integrity Project report, “Manure Overload on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” provides documented evidence that Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan needs to implement – and not eliminate, as he recently threatened — the state’s long delayed poultry manure management regulations, called the “Phosphorus Management Tool.”

The rules are designed to stop or reduce over-application of manure on fields already saturated with phosphorus, or require farms to take other steps to control runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.  The rules were introduced by Governor Martin O’Malley on Nov. 17 after being proposed in 2011 and then delayed twice in 2013 because of protests from the poultry industry.

“Since 2010, Maryland’s official plan to restore the health of the Chesapeake and meet EPA pollution limits for the Bay has included –as a key element — these poultry manure regulations,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project.   “When poultry litter is applied to fields already overloaded with phosphorus, farmers are asked to take additional steps to keep the excess from running off fields and into our watersheds.  That is the very least we can expect from the agricultural industry if we are serious about restoring the Bay. ”

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) investigation is based upon public records – called farm Annual Implementation Reports (AIRS) – that poultry operations are required to file every year with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.  The agency keeps most farm pollution reports secret, by state law. But AIRs reports filed by poultry operations that spread manure on their own fields are public records (although they have never before been examined for a public report like this.) The EIP report examined the AIRS records obtained by the Center for Progressive Reform for poultry operations in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties from 2012, the most recent available at the time EIP conducted the research.

The analysis of the records found that these 62 farms already had excessive amounts of phosphorus in the soil at the beginning of the 2012 growing season.  Farmers then spread more phosphorus in manure than the crops could use, with the result being a 10 percent increase in the concentration of phosphorus in the soil on these farms by the end of the 2012 growing season.

The report also found that missing or incomplete reporting by poultry farms is a problem, with reports not available for 14 percent of the large poultry operations.

State Senator Paul G. Pinsky, co-chair of the Senate’s Environment Subcommittee, said that the Environmental Integrity Project report provides more evidence that Maryland should move ahead and implement the Phosphorus Management Tool regulations without further delay.  “The Chesapeake Bay, besides serving as Maryland’s gem, is an engine for economic activity with its bountiful fishery and tourism,” said Pinsky. “To retain this treasure — and comply with federal mandates — we must reduce the very damaging pollution it now experiences.  Phosphorous runoff into the bay caused by excessive use of poultry litter must be curtailed. Adopting a Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) is an absolute necessity if Maryland wants to stop further degradation of this nationally important estuary.”

Dr. Robert Lawrence, Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: “The data summarized in this report reveal the shocking amount of excess phosphorous flowing into the Chesapeake Bay from poultry operations on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the urgent need to implement the manure management regulations proposed by Governor O’Malley last month.  Protecting the Bay and its tributaries from phosphorous-laden poultry manure is vital for the health of our ecosystem, the people of our region, and the economy.”

In an article in the Salisbury Daily Times on Dec. 3, Governor Elect Hogan – who campaigned against the poultry manure rules – repeated: “We’re going to fight against these phosphorus management regulations.”

State Delegate Shane Robinson, a member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, said the EIP report provides solid evidence that the Maryland General Assembly needs to consider this upcoming session as legislators decide whether to halt any efforts by Hogan to overturn the phosphorus regulations.  “The poultry industry’s pollution has been a major problem in the Chesapeake Bay that Maryland has refused to confront for decades because of the industry’s political influence.  Now, finally, we have rules to stop the manure overload – and we need to follow through with these regulations, for the good of the Bay and everyone who loves and relies on the nation’s largest estuary.”

An economic analysis by Salisbury University researchers released on November 7 concluded that the value of improved water quality that would be created by the phosphorus management regulations would be about $100 million, compared to a cost of implementation of $22 million.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 12-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and the protection of public health across the United States.

To read the report, click here.

Media Contact Tom Pelton, Director of Communications, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or