Farmers oppose nutrient limits

State proposals would regulate fertilizer use

June 10, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

More than 200 Carroll County farmers rallied last night in Westminster against a set of proposed state regulations that would dictate how they use fertilizer and manure that could leak into the Chesapeake Bay.

Farmers would face spot checks and be subject to fines of up to $2,000 for non-compliance, under the proposals.

"I hate to think of an agricultural police force," said Donald I. Dell, a dairy farmer and Carroll County commissioner. "I do see [difficulty] for the farmer and job security for state employees."

"Our mission in life is not to be a police force. Our mission is to provide information and outreach," said Louise Lawrence, chief of the Maryland Department of Agriculture Resource Conservation Office and chairman of the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee that drafted the proposed regulations.

Tim Brown, a Pennsylvanian who farms in northern Carroll County, said he supported soil conservation but believed the problem would be better addressed through education rather than regulation.

Scientists believe the runoff of fertilizer and manure is among the factors that triggered the Pfiesteria outbreak in Maryland waters in 1997. The General Assembly passed the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 in response to the outbreak, and one of the objectives of the act is to reduce nutrient runoff.

Several farmers said the state is acting prematurely, that many of them are following voluntary nutrient management plans, although there is no penalty if they don't comply.

Farmers also are concerned that the proposed regulations could cause them serious financial losses before scientists prove that farm runoff caused the Pfiesteria outbreak.

"This whole fiasco is taking a hatchet to remove a fly from a person's face," said William Knill, a Mount Airy farmer and former president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. "We need to look at where the problem is, not go around kicking everybody in the shins."

Lawrence has held six public hearings across the state to answer questions from farmers and others who could be affected by the proposed regulations, including people who own four or more horses, even if just for recreation. Last night's hearing was held at Westminster High School; others were held in Easton, Hagerstown, Upper Marlboro, Salisbury, and at Harford Community College.

The proposed regulations would affect anyone who has the equivalent of 8,000 pounds of animals, or anyone who uses any kind of fertilizer or manure on at least 10 acres. They would need an individual plan for how to dispose of the animal waste or how to fertilize their fields. The plan would take into account how much phosphorus or nitrogen is in the soil already, and how much of those nutrients the crop is expected to use.

Those who apply fertilizer would need to attend a class on how to apply it responsibly. Under the proposals, first-time violations would bring a warning; subsequent violations would result in fines.

The state will accept written comments on the proposed regulation through July 9.

Copies of the proposed regulations are available through the Maryland Cooperative Extension office on Smith Avenue in Westminster.

Extension Director David L. Greene said he is concerned that while farmers are aware of the proposals, many horse owners and smaller operators may not realize they would be affected.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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