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Panel kills farm legislation

March 21, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Senate panel killed legislation that would delay and streamline new farm runoff regulations, but farmers hope it's not too late to resurrect the bill in the House.

Most of the time, legislation killed in one chamber also dies in the other.

But Valerie Connelly, lobbyist for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said she hopes the House will be able to craft some compromise legislation.

"We want to make it possible for everyone to comply," she said.

Don Schwartz, Maryland Cooperative Extension agent for Washington County, said unless the legislature cuts some of the red tape, the nutrient management regulations won't do what environmentalists intended when they pressed for the law in 1998.

"Somebody's going to have to institute something or this thing is going to continue to be a useless paper trail exercise," he said.

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Even Gov. Parris Glendening's administration said fewer farmers are filing plans to minimize fertilizer runoff since the state made it mandatory.

Four years ago, when nutrient management plans were still voluntary, 1.3 million acres of farmland were covered. By the time a Dec. 31 deadline for the plans rolled around, 1.1 million acres of farmland were either enrolled in the program or were in the process of being enrolled.

The administration opposed a delay in the regulations, but not other parts of the bill aimed at simplifying the rules.

The proposed changes would allow farmers to:

- Write their own nutrient management plans instead of relying on the Extension Service or private consultants.

- Identify their farms using either Property Tax ID numbers or Farm Service Agency numbers.

- Have access to the same computer software as certified planners.

The Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee killed the bill by a vote of 7-3.

Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he tried to convince his colleagues on the committee to pass the legislation.

"It's unfortunate these closed-minded government liberals killed it. These people are environmental extremists," he said.

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