Farmers hope for legislative changes

January 28, 2002

Farmers hope for legislative changes


Ringgold farmer David Herbst has been doing for more than a decade what the state is forcing all its farmers to do - figuring out the ideal amount of fertilizer to use on his crops.

Too little and Herbst won't have a good harvest. Too much and he risks polluting the environment.

Herbst doesn't have a problem with a nutrient management plan, but he and many other farmers want to cut down on the mountain of paperwork that the state government now requires.

The Maryland Farm Bureau, backed by rural lawmakers, is seeking to change the regulations so the plans are less of a headache for farmers.

Along with that, the bureau wants to extend the deadline until December 2004 for farmers who don't yet have plans.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, has joined a group of lawmakers who will be lobbying the Maryland General Assembly to pass the legislation this session.


"I value our agricultural heritage in Washington County and Maryland. I think we should just let the farmers do what they have been doing all along. They're really the best conservationists," he said.

Farmers fought passage of the 1998 law, backed by Gov. Parris Glendening as an answer to the fish-killing disease pfiesteria.

"It was pfiesteria hysteria," Herbst said.

Farmers then worked to repeal the law, which proved futile.

But this year, the bureau's 14,000 members agreed to take a different approach and simply seek changes, said lobbyist Valerie Connelly.

One of the most important changes would allow farmers to write their own plans instead of relying on the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension or high-priced consultants.

"It's not rocket science. If they just let us go ahead and write our own plans, they would simplify this thing a hundred times over and accomplish the same goal," Herbst said.

Other changes in the law would help streamline the process and allow farmers to:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Identify their farms using either Property Tax ID numbers or Farm Service Agency numbers.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Submit their plans March 1 instead of Dec. 30 to coincide with the spring planting schedule.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Have access to the same computer software as certified planners.

Another change in the law would take away the state's authority to enter someone's farm any time to look for compliance.

"We think that is very objectionable," Shank said.

Despite problems with the regulations, farmers in Washington County have done a good job cooperating, said Don Schwartz, an extension agent specializing in agriculture in Washington County.

About 200 Washington County farms met an end-of-year deadline for submitting plans. That total was the highest of any county in the state.

Washington County got a head start on the plans because Schwartz was able to get a federal grant to hire a second nutrient management planner.

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