Md. law plants seeds of concern

February 17, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Farmers unenthusiastic about state nutrient management regulations attended a public hearing at Hagerstown Community College Wednesday night.

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About 25 of approximately 125 people attending the Maryland Department of Agriculture hearing asked questions and made comments during the hearing. It was the first of six public hearings on the mandate to be held around the state.

State law requires farmers to develop nutrient management plans designed to minimize the amount of pollution that ends up in the ground water. The plans must be submitted by December 2001.

Clear Spring Farmer Steve Ernst was among those who questioned why regulations are being imposed on them and not on others who may cause problems with ground water.


Another farmer, Gerald Ditto, said all farmers are partially to blame for the state mandate because they did not provide a decent alternative.

"If we had, we would have had a better law than we do now," Ditto said.

Louise Lawrence, chairwoman of the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee, explained some of the requirements to the audience.

Authorized by the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998, Maryland's nutrient management regulations include requirements for most agricultural operations in the state, people who apply nutrients to both agricultural and nonagricultural land and Maryland-certified nutrient management consultants.

While it was advertised as a two-hour public hearing, public comments were taken for about 40 minutes. The comment time was abbreviated because a portion of the meeting intended for questions and clarifications instead sparked back-and-forth comments and questions regarding whether the law was necessary or appropriate.

Speakers expressed frustration that the law was sparked by "Pfiesteria hysteria" and said they would be more amenable to preparing the nutrient management plans if it were proven that runoff from farms was responsible for killing thousands of fish on the lower Chesapeake Bay.

One of the farmers expressing that sentiment was Mehrl Mayne of Buckeystown, Md.

"They are putting all these regulations on us and we are not the source (of problems)," he said after the meeting. He does not know who or what the source is, but the agricultural industry shouldn't be targeted until it can be proven they are at fault, Mayne said.

Royden Powell, assistant secretary of Agriculture, Office of Resource Conservation, who moderated the meeting, refused to debate the Pfiesteria issue, saying the hearing was on the requirements, not on what prompted them.

The hearing went about as expected, Powell said after the meeting.

Lawrence noted that farmers can get help preparing their plans at Washington County Agricultural Extension offices.

Some Washington County farmers have done their own plans voluntarily, Don Schwartz, a Washington County Agricultural Extension agent, said in a phone interview before the meeting.

Since 1989, his office has helped farmers develop nutrient management plans covering about 60,000 to 70,000 acres of Washington County, he said.

The proposed state regulations are posted on the Internet at

Written comments will be accepted until March 15. They can be sent to Louise Lawrence at Office of Resource Conservation, Maryland Department of Agriculture, 50 Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401.

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