Farmers could lose out to 'Pfiesteria hysteria'

January 07, 1998

Farmers could lose out to 'Pfiesteria hysteria'


Staff Writer

Maryland farmers, worried about the economic impact of tighter environmental regulations, are girding for proposed legislation aimed at addressing the state's much-publicized Pfiesteria situation.

"It's a concern for us, but really it should be a concern to everyone," said Gerald Ditto, a Clear Spring hog farmer and president of the Washington County Farm Bureau.

Farm officials, who met with state lawmakers Tuesday at the county Agricultural Education Center, said more controls on farm runoff and on the use of manure as fertilizer could increase the costs of operating farms.


"The agricultural community realizes the impact that this could have," he said.

Farmers might have something to be worried about, especially when the General Assembly starts its annual 90-day session next Wednesday, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

"The farm community is going to be lucky to escape (the session) with their shirts," Munson said.

Pfiesteria is a microbe that surfaced in streams on the lower Eastern Shore last summer, killing many fish and leaving dozens of people ill. The cause was linked by some environmentalists and scientists to water contaminated from manure from chicken and hog farms.

In response, a state commission issued a report that called for tighter controls on the use of manure as fertilizer on farms. Local farms would be included because their runoff eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Farmers have complained there has been a rush to judgment against them and some have labeled the situation "Pfiesteria hysteria."

"A trite, little pun that is, but it is probably the most descriptive way to describe what's going on," Stephen Weber, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said at the meeting.

Weber and other agriculture officials said they are trying learn as much as they can about Pfiesteria, so they can be prepared when bills aimed at the issue are filed in the coming weeks.

"We just want to get busy and get it fixed," he said.

"Certainly there are more questions than there are answers about Pfiesteria, and I think we're all looking for the answers," said Ditto.

Munson agreed there likely will be many pieces of Pfiesteria legislation this year, boosted by environmentalists in an election-year legislature, but said he will support the farmers.

"I'm not supportive of anything that's going to put farmers out of business," Munson said.

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