MA: Regulating P in Biosolids & Soils
For most of the past year, NEBRA's Reg/Leg and Research Committees have been working to understand and comment on the new Massachusetts nutrient regulation, 330 CMR 31.00.  In December, NEBRA met with the authors of the regulation, staff of the MA Dept. of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).  The core concern is to what extent the regulation's restrictions on phosphorus (P) additions to soils will impede markets for biosolids and other organic residuals.  NEBRA supports the goal of the regulation and the legislation that drove it - keeping P out of surface waters.  But the regulation does not take into account the differences between standard soil test P that is routinely done for agronomic recommendations and the forms of P that are water soluble and environmentally relevant.  In biosolids especially, the measured levels of these different forms of P can be quite different (see graph, above, from Dr. Tom Morris, Univ. of CT). In its broad-brush restrictions on P from any source whatsoever, the regulation is disouraging the use of composts, biosolids, and other organic residuals which provide myriad benefits to soils, recycle local nutrients, and help advance the MassDEP ban on landfill disposal of institutional food scraps.

On Friday, March 25th, MDAR held a meeting with key stakeholders, including NEBRA, to discuss likely amendments the agency will propose through a formal public process in the next few months.  These include changes suggested by NEBRA and Farm Bureau. 

NEBRA's efforts on understanding the implications of the MDAR nutrient regulations were compiled in a March 29th presentation to the MassRecycling R3 conference in Quincy (download presentation).   

As the first full growing season under the regulation approaches, it remains unclear to what extent it will restrict use of biosolids and other organic residuals products.  No material containing P can be applied unless a soil test and UMass Extenion guidelines shows need.  While home gardens are exempted from the regulation, lawn and turf and all agricultural operations must apply nutrients (e.g. P) only in accordance with a soil test - and organic residuals will likely not be allowed on many soils, because they are P-containing according to the definitions in the regulation.  The fact that P in biosolids and composts acts differently and is less available and less environmentally relevant is ignored by the regulation and current guidelines. 

While discussions regarding these nuances will continue, for now, purveyors of biosolids and other organic residuals need to pay attention to the regulation, obtain soil tests, and apply residuals in accordance with UMass guidelines and, in some cases, required nutrient management plans.