Managing animal wastes in the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed may seem like a huge problem, but it is small when compared to the Netherlands -- a country that is pioneering methods to reduce environmental problems associated with animal wastes.
The Netherlands has about 15 million people living in an area about a third the size of Pennsylvania. They share that land with 4.7 million cattle, 13.4 million pigs, 44 million laying hens, 41 million broilers, and 1.7 million sheep.
Altogether, those animals produce three to four times more manure than is needed for fertilizer use in the country. A single 500-sow farm producing 20 piglets per sow each year produces the same effluent as a town of 25,000 people -- but on a much smaller tract of land.
"They have what we have, only worse," said David Brubaker, of the PennAg Industries Association, who has studied and written about the Netherlands situation. "Almost all of the feed is imported. And they are producing these huge animal numbers, but the waste is left behind, so to speak."
Brubaker, who is also chairman of the Bay Program's Citizens Advisory Committee, said the Dutch have developed the most stringent manure regulations in the world as part of an effort to clean their heavily polluted rivers. The intent is to find new uses for manure, better ways to treat the wastes and new ways to reduce the overall amount of manure.
But animal agriculture is critical to the nation's economy -- the Dutch are the world's second largest exporters of agricultural products.
In the 1980s, the Dutch embarked on a ambitious program to reduce pollution from manure. New regulations financially penalize polluters while rewarding innovators and farmers who find ways to market manure abroad. One farm, for example, has developed pelletized poultry manure that is exported for sale as lawn fertilizer.
Increasingly, stringent regulations, over time, will also restrict allowable application rates for manure. The goal is that no more phosphate be applied on land than is withdrawn by crops.
A new law, the Act on Manure and Fertilizer, requires farmers to keep track of the amount of manure produced and where it is going. A "Manure Board" was established to regulate manure flows, provide manure for use in arable areas, and help find new manure users. It also conducts research, assists in the processing of manure and establishes treatment plants.
All farmers with a manure surplus must develop a disposal plan. Farmers who exceed permitted production levels face fines, and there is an escalating level of tax on commercial feed.
To help manage the wastes, manure factories are being established to treat and process excess manure; the country's aim is to be able to process 20 million tons by the turn of the century.
The goal is to balance ecological goals with economic needs, Brubaker said, but the challenge will be to make sure that Dutch meat and dairy products remain competitive in the European market.