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Farm runoff deal in the works

February 18, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

After years of battling over Maryland's 1998 farm runoff law, agriculture and environmental interests appear to have reached an agreement on streamlining the regulations.

Representatives from the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation detailed the proposed changes to lawmakers Tuesday.

The proposed legislation would:

  • Allow farmers to become certified to write their own nutrient management plans, which some Washington County farmers have already been doing under a pilot program.

  • Require farmers to submit a summary of their plans instead of outlining the four major components, which should cut down on the amount of paperwork due.

  • Clarify that Maryland Department of Agriculture officials must give farmers 48 hours notice to inspect farm runoff records.



There was no opposition at the public hearing, held in the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Statewide, about 75 percent of farmers have complied with the 1998 law, the department said.

Washington County traditionally has had a higher than average compliance rate, said Agriculture Extension Agent Don Schwartz.

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The county hired its first nutrient management adviser about a decade before the law passed, so many farmers already were doing the runoff plans when the law went into effect, he said.

A federal grant enabled a second person to be hired for writing plans, he said.

Both farmers and environmentalists said the law changes would help ensure total compliance.

"It's been a long time coming," said Theresa Pierno, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Some farmers were concerned that the state would violate their privacy while doing the inspections.

"Clearly, right of entry has been a major hurdle," said Assistant Agriculture Secretary Royden Powell.

The proposed legislation spells out that inspections can be done off-site and that inspectors only have the power to look at documents related to farm runoff when they visit a farm.

Committee Chairwoman Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore, commended the groups for working together.

The proposal was largely the result of a summit last summer on the Eastern Shore that brought together the various interest groups, Agriculture Secretary Lewis Riley said.

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