Fertile Proposal on Composting

June 08, 1994

Amending the zoning code to allow Carroll County farmers to compost yard waste makes a lot of sense and would go a long way toward solving some current and future solid waste problems. This proposal should not be enacted without safeguards, however. Moreover, a farm-based composting program should not be seen as a green light for the county to end its own composting efforts.

Given that state law now prohibits the dumping of yard waste into landfills and the fact that farmers are always looking for ways to increase revenue, expanding the amount of composting in Carroll would produce a variety of benefits.

The thousands of tons of yard clippings that county residents produce weekly threatens to overwhelm the composting operation at the landfill. A strategy to augment the county's current effort to turn leaves, plant trimmings and cut grass into soil additives is sorely needed.

In considering this proposal, the county planning commission and the commissioners should make close supervision and strong enforcement an integral part of any expansion of farm-based composting. Without periodic inspections, Carroll runs the risk of having unscrupulous farmers create a Carroll version of James Jett's Granite stump dump -- which burned for two years and cost the taxpayers of neighboring Baltimore County about $700,000 to extinguish. Limiting the stockpiling of yard waste, tree limbs and stumps is one way to avoid a similar situation. The county's eventual ordinance should also allow for inspectors to immediately revoke the permit of any farmer who doesn't grind up the material on a timely basis.

While farmers should be encouraged to compost, there is no guarantee that turning yard waste into nutrient-rich humus will be profitable. Getting free raw material, adding manure and field waste and stirring the combination occasionally sounds like a recipe for making money, but it is quite possible farmers may in time consider the investment out of line with the financial return.

With this possibility in mind, the county must continue as the composter of last resort. At the same time, the county should not operate its composting facility in a way that discourages competition. Instead of giving away composted material, the county might have to sell it.

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