Spring planting season almost upon us

March 10, 2009|By JEFF SEMLER

With spring fast approaching, it is time once again to visit the topic of sights, sounds and smells of living in an agricultural community.

As a resident of a largely rural county, you will see, hear and smell things that are quite different from what you might be accustomed to when compared to where you might previously have lived.

Many residents have been attracted to our fair county because of its bucolic vistas. You may have built in sight of, or even perhaps downwind of, a farm. Farmers sometimes receive complaints from their new neighbors about routine agricultural operations, dust, noise and smells.

Farming is an occupation and a way of life that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Agriculture is the foundation of rural communities, and farmers expect and hope to live peacefully with their neighbors. While in certain cases farmers might be able to accommodate requests to modify their operations, the interface between agricultural and residential neighbors requires cooperation and understanding on both sides to keep peace in the community.


Farmers are independent business people who provide for their families by growing and producing food and fiber. They use modern production techniques to increase the quality and quantity of the food they produce. In the 1960s, one farmer supplied food for 25.8 persons in the U.S. and abroad. Today, one farmer supplies food for 144 people in the U.S. and abroad.

Most farming operations use herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and insects. The Maryland Department of Agriculture requires a Pesticide Applicator's License to perform this work. Training and passing an exam are required to obtain a license and recertification is required every three years. Modern pesticides are approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after years of testing. Newer generation pesticides are used in very small quantities and are more environmentally friendly.

A big part of farming involves working with conditions that people can't control, especially the weather. As soon as the soil warms up and dries out enough to plant, farmers must get their crops in the ground to take advantage of the maximum number of days in the growing season. Spring planting is just around the corner and so is spreading natural fertilizers such as manure.

On livestock and dairy operations, the efficient and environmentally safe disposal of manure is a major consideration. Whenever possible, farmers use manure as organic fertilizer on crop fields, reducing their need for commercial fertilizer, which is both an economic and environmental benefit. Manure is usually stored in a structure that will protect it from runoff and therefore prevent it from being washed into streams. These structures provide storage, but eventually the manure is spread on the fields. Manure handling involves odors, but under normal conditions the odor from manure spreading quickly disappears.

Harvesting, which will begin for some crops in May, is a particularly critical time, and farmers must work every available hour until the crops are harvested from the fields. Part of the urgency is that crops can be seriously devalued or completely ruined if they get wet during harvest time. While harvesting, farmers might work from dawn to dusk or even in the dark to get their crops in. Also during this time, harvesting equipment and wagons might need to use the highway to get from fields to barns. Be patient when slow-moving farm equipment is on the road - that could be the producer of your dinner up ahead!

If there are problems with new neighbors, especially ones who have never lived in a rural area before, it is critical to address problems in a cooperative manner with an attitude that might allow changes on both sides for a peaceful solution. In some cases, a friendly visit to the farm to learn more about the operation can eliminate many misunderstandings.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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