New fertilizer rules to get hearing

Some fear small farm, animal owners may be caught unaware

June 04, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

New state regulations on manure and fertilizer could surprise non-farmers who may not realize they will have to comply.

Anyone who owns the equivalent of 8,000 pounds of any animal -- even dogs -- should attend a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Westminster High School's auditorium, said David L. Greene, director of the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Carroll County.

Farmers have been waiting anxiously to learn more about the nutrient management regulations that will govern what they do with animal waste and how much chemical fertilizer they can spread on fields.

The hearing held by the Maryland Department of Agriculture will provide answers and a forum for comments.

The new rules will apply to anyone who owns a total of 8,000 pounds of animals. That works out to be about eight cows, 20 hogs or as few as four horses, Greene said.

Most of the state's farmers have been involved in voluntary nutrient management practices, but there is no penalty for those who do not participate. The new law requires participation and will impose fines of $250 to $2,000 a year for those who do not comply after a first violation.

The new regulations will affect people who plant as few as 10 acres of any crop and anyone who earns at least $2,500 from a farm operation. It is those smaller farmers and horse owners that some worry will be caught by surprise.

"They're not in our network," said Greene, whose office is tapped into the farmers, but isn't necessarily consulted by people who have a few horses for their own recreation. "I'm not sure they're aware of this."

Greene said the hearings are an important step before the regulations are made final. Farmers have a chance to review them for practicality and offer advice to department.

"You can't go up and say, `We don't want the law.' That's not an option. But there are aspects that are particularly onerous, and this hearing will give people the opportunity to comment on that," he said.

For example, the proposed guidelines direct farmers not to spread manure on frozen ground. But if farmers wait until the ground thaws in March, their manure-spreading vehicles would tear up the young grain plants that winter over and begin growing again with the spring thaw.

Also, poultry operations such as County Fair Farms in northern Carroll County have found that spreading the dry chicken manure on fields in the winter decreases the chances that fly larvae will hatch, said Dan Snyder, complex manager for the egg-laying houses.

The hearing Wednesday is one of six that are being held across the state by the Department of Agriculture, which will be in charge of enforcing the regulations.

The regulations were developed over the last year by a committee of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, to carry out legislation passed in 1998 in reaction to the Pfiesteria outbreaks in southern Maryland waters two years ago.

Although a link between nutrient runoff into streams has not been proven as the cause of the Pfiesteria outbreak, scientists believe the runoff feeds the fish-killing microbe.

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