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Farmers criticize proposed changes to Maryland's Nutrient Management Regulations

About 100 showed up at a public hearing at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center

July 18, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance spoke to the crowd Wednesday night at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

About 100 farmers — some delivering heated remarks to state agriculture officials — attended a public hearing Wednesday night at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center regarding new proposed regulations they might have to follow to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution.

The proposed changes are to Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations and include proposed laws that govern how nutrients are applied to soil.

One proposal that drew criticism is that farmers will have to establish a 35-foot setback from perennial and intermittent streams when applying nutrients.

Jerry Ditto of Clear Spring had concerns about the proposals and questioned how other states are dealing with the mandates to clean up the bay.

Ditto, who runs a 130-acre crop farm, singled out Pennsylvania and said he will “bet the farm” that their regulations will be less restrictive.

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Royden Powell, assistant secretary of resource conservation for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, told the crowd that Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware are following the same process to protect the bay.

Ditto talked about the $1.1 billion in bay clean-up measures that were suggested to governments in Washington County. Ditto said he could see local governments being able to “pass” on the requirements, and “agriculture will get hosed.”

Powell assured Ditto that the emphasis in the new regulations was to achieve consistency in how chemicals like nitrogen are used and controlled.

Darryl Walter, a dairy farmer from Montgomery County, said some years ago there was a study that showed how runoff from Interstate 70 in Maryland was polluting the bay. The study said pollution from I-70 was a considerably greater threat to the bay than farms, Walter said.

Walter said the study was quickly “buried” and that authorities wanted to keep their “thumbs on farmers and not the commuters.”

“If you want to save the bay, make I-70 a bicycle path,” Walter said.

Wednesday’s public hearing is one of four the Maryland Department of Agriculture is holding across the state. After reviewing public comments, the agency could adopt the regulations as proposed or modify them, Powell said.

“All through this process, we have listened,” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance said.

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