Farmers rally to fight runoff plans

February 11, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Farmers rally to fight runoff plans

ANNAPOLIS - Steve Ernst is the sixth generation of his family to earn his living by farming Washington County land, and he wants to make sure there can be a seventh.

"This has a real potential to change the face of Maryland agriculture," said Ernst, 33, who with his father runs a hog, sheep and crop farm near Clear Spring.

The "this" to which Ernst was referring is Gov. Parris N. Glendening's nutrient runoff proposal, which he and many other farmers have criticized for being hastily organized, potentially costly and an example of expanding government control over their livelihoods.


"Frankly, I'm a little offended when someone who doesn't know a thing about my business tells me how to run it," said Ernst, president of the Maryland Pork Producers.

He wasn't the only one. More than 300 farmers, most wearing stickers that said "Facts not Fear!" traveled from across the state to rally against the governor's plan and in support of an alternative proposal put together by rural lawmakers.

"The farmer is always the scapegoat for anything that goes wrong," said Charles Shank, 72, a retired farmer from Cearfoss.

The rally was timed to coincide with General Assembly hearings on the different runoff plans. Some of the farmers attended the hearings, others followed the proceedings over speakers set up outside to handle the large overflow crowd, and some used the time to lobby their representatives.

"We hope we can have some emphasis with the support be brought here," said Charles Main, 58, who attended with his wife, Helen.

Main said his beef and grain farm near Sharpsburg participates in the current voluntary runoff plan, which has focused on limiting erosion in the state since 1985 and nitrogen runoff since 1982.

"We put a lot of time and effort into conservation," said Helen Main, 51.

Glendening's plan would make nutrient management plans mandatory by 2002, with civil fines possible for those not in compliance.

The plan is aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorous that runs off farms and into streams, rivers and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Many scientists and environmentalists believe phosphorous fueled the fish-killing Pfiesteria microbe found on the lower part of the bay last summer.

The Glendening plan came from the task force that studied the Pfiesteria problem. Joseph C. Bryce, an administration aide, said it includes input from farmers and others in the agricultural community.

"This was one of the more publicly debated, publicly discussed and publicly written about issues in recent history," Bryce told the House Environmental Matters Committee.

But farmers said the plan was prepared too quickly and lacks strong scientific support that phosphorous leads to Pfiesteria. They said farmers were too quickly made the villains in the issue.

"I just don't like people pointing fingers at me, that's all," Charles Main said.

Farmers said the plan will increase nutrient management costs. But they said what is more bothersome is the increased presence of state regulators telling them how to use their livestock manure.

"You have someone with no vested interest in agriculture telling us how to do our business. That's my biggest concern," said Jere DeBaugh, a Boonsboro dairy farmer.

The rural lawmakers' plan supported by farmers would require 70 percent of farmers to adopt nutrient management plans based on phosphorous by 2002 and 80 percent by 2005.

"We're not against cleaning up the environment, but we have to have some practical solutions to it," DeBaugh said.

He said there likely would be a would be a high amount of compliance in a voluntary phosphorous program because it is in the best interest of farmers to be good stewards of their land.

"If we don't treat the land right, then we don't get treated (right)," DeBaugh said.

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