Farm runoff is the hot topic at forum

January 04, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

The best thing farmers can expect from the state of Maryland is the delay of new farm runoff regulations, Del. Christopher B. Shank said Tuesday.

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Shank, R-Washington, said he regrets that the Maryland General Assembly won't repeal the 1997 law that created nutrient management regulations.

"I'm not naive enough to think the political climate in Annapolis would be conducive to that," he said.

There is talk, however, of delaying the rules, which are to go into effect this year, he said.

Heavy state regulation was a major topic at an agriculture forum hosted by Shank at the Washington County Cooperative Extension office.

Shank said he called the meeting, attended by about 30 farmers and government officials, because he was disturbed by what he heard at a recent Maryland Farm Bureau conference.


Farmers haven't had input into the state regulations that affect them, he said.

"It's not a real farm-friendly state," said Downsville farmer Jim Coffman.

Shank and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, promised to look out for farmers' interests when they head to Annapolis next week for the 90-day legislative session.

"This is a quality of life issue," said Munson.

Farmers said they face numerous challenges, such as lower commodity prices and pressure to increase farm sizes.

"I don't think agriculture is much different than any other business or industry. I feel we are working ourselves out of a job. We produce more than we can sell at a profitable price," said Orchardist Ben Clopper of Smithsburg.

Consumer buying habits are driving the pressure for larger farms, said Gerald Ditto, a Clear Spring hog farmer.

People are flocking to chain restaurants, which rely on large-scale farms to supply them with large quantities of food, he said.

Consumers also don't understand that when the price of milk goes up, it isn't farmers who are making the profits but rather the grocery stores, said Boyd Cook of the Maryland Dairy Industry Association.

Elmer Weibley of the Washington County Soil Conservation District said state regulations and paperwork are often cumbersome.

A new manure hauling program is bogged down by a detailed form that asks for the truck and trailer tag number, the farmer's tax identification number and even the time the delivery was made, he said.

The new nutrient management regulations might be even worse, said Don Schwartz, Washington County Agriculture Extension Agent.

About 20 percent to 25 percent of dairy farmland will be affected. Virtually every dairy farm will have to reduce or eliminate use of manure on at least one field, he said.

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