Pact to protect waters signed Gore launches plan on banks of Md. river

October 21, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE -- Vice President Al Gore praised Loring Hawes for his environmentally sensitive farming practices yesterday and then signed a $195 million agreement with Maryland to make it more enticing for other farmers to adopt conservation practices to help preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

Hawes' farm is on the bank of the Chester River and his soybean fields stop 99 feet short of the water.

The buffer is enrolled in a U.S. Department of Agriculture program in which farmers are paid not to grow crops on land where harmful nutrients could run into streams and rivers feeding the Chesapeake Bay.

Hawes' farm was the setting for the signing of a new agreement by Gore and Gov. Parris N. Glendening that will provide $170 million in federal funds, along with $25 million from the state, over the next 15 years to boost the payments to farmers and other landowners for taking environmentally sensitive land out of production or protecting it from development.

"This announcement will be looked back upon, many years from now, as a path breaking initiative that set the mold for the entire United States of America," Gore said. "Once again, Maryland is leading the whole nation."

Gore said the plan provides adequate funding "to establish a protective buffer between every acre of farmland in the state and every permanent stream."

He said similar programs are being considered for water problems in Illinois and Minnesota.

The extra dollars are designed to encourage more farmers to participate in the water conservation program, said James M. Voss, head of the Maryland Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, which administers USDA policies in the state. "It makes the program more attractive to farmers."

Voss said the new state and federal program will pay farmers between 50 percent and 70 percent above the program initiated in 1985 in which Hawes is already a participant.

"As an example," Voss said, "if a farmer now gets $50 an acre, he would get an additional $35 to plant trees on the river buffer strip. If the farmers plants grass in the bugger zones, he gets an additional $25 an acre."

Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who heads an 11-member state panel investigating fish kills in Maryland waters, said the new program "is the only good thing to come out of the current Pfiesteria crisis."

Hughes said he had no doubt that the Pfiesteria piscicida outbreak is the reason Maryland received such a large sum of money and was selected as the first state to participate in the USDA's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

Under the program, the Agriculture Department will pay 87.5 percent of a farmer's cost of planting trees or grasses on buffer strips between fields and water banks. Farmers are expected to pick up the other 12.5 percent.

But farmers could have help to pay for their share. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced yesterday that it is chipping in $5 million the first year to assist farmers who would like to participate in the program but cannot afford it.

Michael L. Shultz, a spokesman for the foundation, said its program, like the federal-state plan, would pick farms where the greatest water quality improvements could be obtained.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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