Irreconcilable differences

Rural life : Suburbanites and farmers are inherently incompatible neighbors, but farmers suffer.

April 23, 1999

MANY city dwellers and suburbanites have moved to the country with romantic notions about living close to the land. More often than not, they discover living next to a working farm means putting up with the noise of tractors and combines operating late into the night, the strong scent of manure and occasional errant clouds of dust or pesticide.

Farmers from Baltimore to Charles counties have found themselves defendants in lawsuits filed by their new neighbors. John McGinnis, a third-generation Baltimore County farmer, is defending himself against criminal charges and a $400,000 civil suit alleging he allowed pesticide to waft into a neighbor's house.

Many state legislatures, including Maryland's, have passed so-called "right-to-farm" laws. The laws are intended to protect farmers who are working their land in a prudent, reasonable manner from nuisance suits. The Supreme Court cast doubt about such legislation by upholding Iowa's highest court in striking down that state's right-to-farm law.

Suburban development and farming are incompatible. Farmers have little choice about their location. No one is razing houses or shopping centers and planting fields of soybeans, or wheat, so farm land is disappearing at a frightening rate.

Those who choose to move next to farming operations have to expect some inconveniences. As long as farmers are not violating health and safety laws, they must be allowed to pursue their livelihoods.

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