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April 2, 2008

Farmers and the Bays

Tom McLaughlin

Where in the world are we going to put the chicken poop? That is the question most people on the Eastern Sore are asking. “Not in my back yard!” said the towns. “Not in my backyard” said the counties. Not on the fields said the wacko environmentalists.


The whole problem started with the explosion in the construction of chicken houses in the 80’s and 90’s. Being close to expanding urban areas, the demand for chicken became so great that farmers could not keep up.


In the past, the poop was spread over the fields, which fertilized the soy beans and corn that fed the chickens. There was just too much of it, and it was running into the ditches and rivers that run into the back bays behind Ocean City and the Chesapeake Bay.


Enter the rules and regulation people of the State of Maryland. They said each farm must come up with a nutrient management plan. However, the farmers said it must be kept secret. Why would anyone want something as obtuse and boring as nutrient management plan kept secret?


The farmers claim it is a business plan and they don’t want others to see their future endeavors. To give a very simplistic example, let’s say a farmer wanted to grow a new variety of tomatoes that ripened earlier than others. He would be the first to harvest and therefore get a higher price. If the other farmers found out, they would grow the variety also causing the price to fall. Simple supply and demand.


Another reason farmers are against disclosure is because they don’t want “out of their mind” tree huggers wandering their farms looking for any violations. This would happen given the crusading mentality of some of these organizations.


Now a bill has been introduced into the Maryland General Assembly and it’s wandering its way through the catacombs to make the plans public. The Water Keeper Alliance has also filed suit.


Virtually conceding they will lose the lawsuit, farmers are now trying to have the enforcement of the nutrient management plans under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture instead of the Department of the Environment. They figure Agriculture will look more realistic and with greater understanding than the environmentalist. Believe me, Frederick County farmers are watching this quite closely.


In a speech at the Farm Bureau banquet in Snow Hill, (yes I was there) the president conceded that there were some farmers who did not comply with the rules and regs but felt that Agriculture could persuade them to reform better than the Department of The Environment.


Enter the Water Keeper Alliance, whose main bent is filing a lawsuit against everyone. They are poised, when the nutrient management plans become public, to run to the courts and sue, sue, sue against every farmer who violates their own nutrient plan whether it is realistic or not.


The enforcement of the nutrient management plans should come under the Department Agriculture. It has more expertise in managing, persuading and enjoining the few farmers who do not comply. Filing lawsuits, sending people to run across farms, and fining people will only harden resentment against a group of people who feed the nation. They have been burdened with and – in most case – have complied with environmental regulations. The press has unfairly blamed them for the nitrogen load in both bays.


If the farmers are to blame, why, in the worst drought in recent memory, did the pollution remain the same when there was no run off?


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