Fair solutions to farm runoff

Nutrient plans: State aid for manure disposal necessary, but enforcement must not be weakened.

July 19, 1999

It's imperative that the state do more to control pollution runoff from Maryland farms into the Chesapeake Bay. But the state's proposed nutrient-management rules, which go into effect next year, need amending to ease the burden on small farms and to assure their equitable application.

An advisory committee made up of farm and environmental interests is proposing several worthy changes to the rules.

They include a change in calculating the size of a livestock farm, exemption of research or demonstration projects, and a state cost-sharing manure-disposal program for all livestock producers.

Under the 1998 law, farmers will need individual plans for disposing of manure or chemically fertilizing their fields. They would be subject to state on-site inspections and penalties for violations.

The committee said the rule on the number of animals that triggers the law's coverage of a farm is unrealistic. Horses, for instance, are counted at twice their actual size, bringing many horse "farmettes" unwittingly -- and unfairly -- under the law.

State cost-sharing for all animal farmers -- not just poultry producers -- to transport excess manure is another good proposal. Chicken farmers will get $1.5 million from the state and large poultry processors to pay for hauling manure to areas that can use it as fertilizer. All livestock farmers should be eligible for this type of aid.

Some suggestions by the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee should be rejected. They include recommendations to eliminate enforcement penalties ($2,000 for a repeat offense) and inclusion of non-agricultural land of any size to meet state fertilizer limits.

Fines and mandatory nutrient plans are necessary because voluntary measures by Maryland farmers are not working adequately to control leakage of manure, nitrogen and phosphorus into bay tributaries. These measures encourage compliance. And setting a minimum parcel size for coverage makes for more efficient use of enforcement resources.

Most important, the state must retain on-site inspection rights to assure integrity of the program.

Pub Date: 7/19/99

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