Dairy farmers fight farm-size limit

They're rallying against campaign by Sierra Club

May 24, 2000|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland dairy farmers began rallying their forces yesterday to oppose a state Sierra Club campaign to limit farm size that they say threatens their survival.

The environmental group's Maryland chapter wants the state to enact a moratorium on large-scale farm operations - dairy farms with 100 cows or more. It says the move is necessary to prevent accumulations of manure in concentrated areas that could pollute waterways.

The campaign comes after the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass a statewide moratorium on the expansion of livestock operations earlier this year."That was just part of the battle," said Mary Marsh, a member of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club's family farm committee. She said the group would be seeking legislative approval for its cause again next year.

Paul Weller, executive director of the Maryland Dairy Industry Association, a trade group representing dairy farmers, said a moratorium on farm expansion would threaten the state's already financially shaky dairy industry. Due primarily to low prices for milk at the farm level, Maryland has lost 40 percent of its dairy farms since the mid-1980s."Farm have to get bigger to survive," said Weller. "That's a fact of life. We don't think the Sierra Club fully understands the situation here.""If you put a cap on the growth of any business, it's not going to survive for very long," he said.

Weller, who grew up on a 75-acre, 40-cow, dairy farm near Hagerstown, said the average dairy farm in Maryland now has 100 cows. It's a joke to think you can make a living off such a farm today," Weller said of his childhood home. "A farmer can't make a living in Maryland with less than 100 cows."

The Dairy Association wants farmers to have the right to decide for themselves if they want to expand their operation in an attempt to boost their earnings."The Sierra Club stands for some worthy causes, but they are terribly misinformed on this issue," said Myron Wilhide, a Carroll County dairy farmer and president of the Maryland Dairy Industry Association.

Wilhide, who milks between 150 and 180 cows at a farm near Detour, said it is "un-American" to place restrictions on producers.

The Sierra Club has been spreading its message through an $8 million radio campaign featuring two 60-second spots on small stations in Hagerstown, Salisbury, Westminster and other rural areas.

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