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Fixing one biill won't ease farmers' finances

January 30, 2002

Fixing one biill won't ease farmers' finances



Washington County farmers, rebuffed in their attempts to win repeal of a nutrient-management law, will try this year to loosen its requirements. Lawmakers need to work with them on this and other measures designed to make farming a more viable enterprise.

Del. Joe Bartlett, R-Washington - Frederick, pledged to work on improving farmers' finan health when he and other rejected the idea of a county real-estate transfer tax that would help pay for school construction and farm land preservation. The 2002 session would be the ideal place to start.

The nutrient-management law was passed in 1998, after people became sick from eating fish infected with an organism called pfisteria, said to thrive in waterways with large amounts of agricultural runoff. To prevent that, farmers must get the Agricultural Extension Service or a certified planner to write a nutrient-management plan.

Farmer would like they law changed so they can write their own plans. That's a change that's unlikely to pass; state offis often value the input of consultants over independent businesspeople. Our suggested compromise would allow farmers to write the plan, then have it reviewed by the extension service.

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The problem with this and other regulations farmers face is that it may prevent runoff or other problems, but it doesn't add to the bottom line. Here's what really needs to happen to improve the finan condition of farmers:

- Create an insurance pool for the state's farmers. Farmers often must depend on a spouse who works outside the farm to get medical and dental benefits.

- Work to help Maryland's federal representatives pass the northeast Dairy Compact. Without some price-support mechanism, an increasing number of farms will be sold for development, which will boost taxpayer costs for school and other services.

Targeting farmers as the despoilers of the Chesapeake Bay is easy, but ignores the runoff from commercial and residential development. It's time to look at everyone's role in this situation.

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