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Md. ag secretary faces questions in Washington County

Questions ranged from nutrient management to a new law limiting the use of septic systems on rural land

December 06, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Jennifer Smith, county director of plan review and permitting, left, speaks at the agricultural business forum Thursday while County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham, center, and Julie Pippel, director of the county's environmental management, listen.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Washington County farmers and officials grilled Maryland Agriculture Secretary Earl F. “Buddy” Hance on Thursday about a variety of concerns.

Hance was a guest speaker at the county’s inaugural agriculture business forum at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center south of Hagerstown.

He faced questions about topics ranging from nutrient management to a new law limiting the use of septic systems on rural land — even though the Department of Planning, not his department, is behind that law, Hance stressed.

The distinction didn’t stop people in the audience from pressing the matter on the septic law, which was the topic of a public hearing before the Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

At the business forum, Ronald Bowers, a former Washington County commissioner, urged Hance, a farmer, to give his opinion about the septic bill.

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“If something wasn’t done in Maryland, where would we be farming in 30 years?,” Hance replied.

He also talked about the Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for complying with new state nutrient management regulations.

The regulations are connected to a Watershed Implementation Plan to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

According to a news release the department issued last month, there are three broad areas:

  • updating nutrient management plans according to new requirements;
  • requirements on when nutrients can be applied in the fall;
  • new provisions for the injection or incorporation of manure or other nutrient sources applied in the winter.

Addressing the complaint that farmers’ land will lose significant value if new development limits are imposed, Hance said that didn’t happen in Baltimore County when it went to more restrictive zoning.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham later challenged that statement and asked Hance to supply, by the end of the month, a list of appraisers who are not devaluing farmland.

“Someone isn’t telling the full story,” she said.

Maryland’s counties are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to designate their land through the state’s new four-tier system, which sets a limit of seven building lots on many rural properties.

After facing several rounds of questions from the audience, Hance thanked farmers for their contributions to agriculture.

“I don’t like these damn regulations any more than you do,” he added, smiling, “but, I’m sorry.”

About 40 people attended the forum in the morning, including several county officials who talked about their departments — plan review and permitting, planning and zoning, parks and facilities, environmental management — and how they relate to agriculture.

Responding to audience questions, Jennifer M. Smith, the county’s director of plan review and permitting, talked about the requirements that agricultural buildings meant for public occupancy meet structural codes.

Clear Spring farmer Steve Ernst said that could get onerous and is the type regulation that could kick local agriculture “in the head.”

The event included lunch for the participants and booths for local agriculture-related companies to advertise their businesses.

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