Extending farm plans deadline

Nutrient management: Rule delays, lack of state help have hobbled key anti-pollution program.

November 26, 2001

THE Pfiesteria fish kill four years ago prompted Maryland to require farmers to come up with plans to control the chemical and manure pollutants on their land.

The law to combat runoff water pollution was sound. But the execution has been seriously deficient, frustrating farmers and preventing meaningful progress.

Perhaps 10 percent of the state's 13,000-plus farmers are expected to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for completing required management plans.

The understaffed, underfunded Maryland Cooperative Extension offices are backlogged with requests for help.

The state effort to rein in farmland runoff pollution remains a worthwhile goal, but modifications are needed. Farmers who sincerely try to comply by registering with the Cooperative Extension offices for help or contracting with qualified private consultants should be given more time. Meanwhile, the state should come up with more money to employ experts to help farmers write the plans. Cutting this budget by 70 percent last year was utter folly.

When legislators return to the General Assembly in January, extending the deadline for plans should be a priority. Then a solution is needed to push farmers to draft workable plans. Finally, the state must recognize that these belated plans will not likely meet the implementation deadline by the end of 2002.

Minimizing fertilizer use is good for the land and for the water. It can also save farmers money. Let's correct the obvious problems and promptly move forward to curb farm runoff pollution.

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