Farmers fight enforcement of Md. runoff law

March 28, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

Maryland farming interests want to delay enforcement of a fertilizer runoff law, saying the state has not helped them meet the regulations.

Under a law passed five years ago, farmers have to develop nutrient management plans to minimize the amount of fertilizer runoff.

Many farmers have not been able to comply because the rules are complex and there are not enough public or private experts to help them write the plans, said Washington County Extension Agent Don Schwartz.


Under the law, farmers without plans face fines of $100 per violation but no more than $2,000 a year.

Legislation tentatively approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday would delay any fines until next April for farmers who have filed for extensions.

Farmers who have not filed for extensions would be fined after October.

Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Eastern Shore, said the state should delay the fines because it hasn't given farmers the technical assistance that was promised.

"We haven't lived up to the obligation we made," he said.

This summer, newly named Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley plans to hold a summit of agriculture and environmental interests to solve problems with the law, Conway said.

The department has taken steps to simplify the law by creating a pilot program to teach farmers to write their own plans.

Four local farmers have participated in the pilot program to write their own plans, Schwartz said.

If Conway's bill does not pass, the Agriculture Department will be faced with a choice of enforcing a bad law or not enforcing the law, Schwartz said.

"It would not be in the legislature's best interest not to pass it, but there's a lot of folks inside the beltway who maybe just don't care," Schwartz said.

Washington County farmers have done a better job complying with the law than those in many other counties, said Schwartz.

About 80 percent of the county's farmland is covered by plans written in the last five years, he said.

Even if it passes the House today, the bill is in trouble in the Senate.

Environmentalists were able to gut the bill with an amendment on the Senate floor and the bill was sent back to the House Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The farm runoff regulations were approved in 1998 as a response to an outbreak of pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Herald-Mail Articles