Manure management along the bay Hughes commission: Deadlines for farm pollution control plans essential to cleanup.

November 02, 1997

VOLUNTARY MEANS mandatory in the proposal for state farmers to limit animal manure pollution of Maryland waters. If farmers don't adopt and implement an acceptable manure management plan, the state must impose such requirements, regardless of political backlash.

While the governor's commission debates the ways to regulate farm runoff of manure and chemical fertilizers, there is general agreement that livestock farms are a major contributor to Chesapeake Bay pollution. Scientific evidence suggests the microorganism Pfiesteria piscicida thrives on excessive farm runoff in the waters, even if its toxic secretion is directly stimulated by the presence of fish.

Efforts to curb manure and chemical runoff from farms have been going on for years; they didn't arise suddenly from this summer's Pfiesteria scare (which resulted in closing three Eastern Shore tributaries). State farmers have successfully fought off requirements for basic pollution control measures.

Voluntary runoff plans have been adopted for half the state's 1.7 million farm acres. The question is how to reach 100 percent compliance, and how to enforce implementation.

The 11-member panel, chaired by former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, aimed at a compromise that would not force livestock farmers into bankruptcy, but would get their attention to do something now. Deadlines of 2000 and 2002 for voluntary adoption of manure plans, with full implementation by two years later, place the responsibility on the individual farmers.

The state can offer financial assistance or other aid to farmers; plans typically are drafted with help of government experts. Payments to encourage winter cover-crops, to absorb more nutrients, is another useful measure. More needs to be done by huge poultry processors to set farmer-grower runoff standards and to fund ameliorative projects.

There are four promising methods for controlling manure pollution: spread it on your own crops as fertilizer, ship it to other farms, incinerate it, or reduce it through more efficient animal feeds. All these must be explored to find effective nutrient-management plans for the Shore's $1.5 billion poultry industry.

As the Pfiesteria outbreak emphasizes, poultry and livestock pollution can endanger the bay's important seafood and tourism industries, as well as posing human health hazards.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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