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Farm Bureau members hear of new environmental laws

December 08, 1998

Farm Bureau Pres.By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




During a Monday session of the Maryland Farm Bureau's annual convention, a state official gave farmers an update on legislation that requires many of them to file management plans for their properties.

Royden Powell II, assistant secretary for resource conservation with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, explained some of the new requirements during the session.

The legal requirement for farmers to submit a Nutrient Management Plan was included in the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. The plan is intended to give the state a sense of what farmers have on their farm now, including the amount of animal waste and chemicals, and whether that will change in the future.

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The law was sparked by the Pfiesteria outbreak in the summer of 1997.

Pfiesteria is a microbe that surfaced in streams on the lower Eastern Shore, killing many fish and leaving dozens of people ill.

Some environmentalists and scientists believe the outbreak was linked to water contaminated by manure runoff 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.

Since Maryland was the first state to pass legislation of this type, other states concerned about the problem are watching the actions of Maryland's legislators and farmers, Powell said.

"This is one time we did not want to be first," said Stephen Weber, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. "This is something none of us wanted to see, something none of us wanted to happen."

While Monday's speech was billed as being on the topic of "Nutrient management & Pfiesteria" Powell barely mentioned Pfiesteria until pressed.

During a question and answer session after his 30 minute speech, a farmer asked what his comments about the management plan had to do with Pfiesteria.

Powell said that if they were to debate whether or not farm runoff causes Pfiesteria they could be there all day. There is much that is still not known about Pfiesteria, he said.

Whether runoff has caused problems or not, it makes sense to develop a plan that would decrease the odds of any health problems occurring, he said.

After the speech, he said that there are some who probably came because they thought he would discuss proof about the link between farm runoff and Pfiesteria. "But I wasn't going to go there," he said.

Under the legislation, everyone who owns a farm that brings in more then $2,500 a year must file a nutrient management plan. Some of the specific requirements and components of the plan are still being determined and drafted, he said.

Farmers who use chemical fertilizers must submit their plans by Dec. 31, 2001, and must implement the plans by Dec. 31, 2002.

Those using sludge or animal manure on their farms must submit plans by July 1, 2004, and implement them by July 1, 2005.

There is a $250 fine if a plan is submitted late. Anyone who does not implement a plan can be fined up to $100 per day, not to exceed $2,000 per year.

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