New farm nutrient rules pulled back
Feeling the heat from farmers and environmentalists alike, the O'Malley administration has put on hold new rules on how and when farmers can fertilizer their fields.
"We were contacted by stakeholders on all sides (ag, enviros, locals) and asked to discuss a little more the draft regulations," MDA spokeswoman Julianne Oberg said in an email. "We're affording that opportunity, and will be resubmitting soon."
The new rules, aimed at reducing nutrient pollution of Chesapeake Bay, have been stirring furor since they were first floated last summer. Farmers complained about proposed limitations on putting animal manure in their fields in fall and winter, and about another provision essentially requiring fencing livestock out of streams. Municipal and county officials, meanwhile, objected to another provision barring the spreading of sewage sludge on fields in winter, which they said would require costly storage facilities.
Environmentalists joined the critics a few weeks ago, charging that agriculture officials had watered the rules down unacceptably in an attempt to mollify other critics.
Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, emailed that she was "encouraged" the administration had pulled the regulations for further consideration. Environmentalists had complained especially about a recent change that would let farmers keep spreading animal manure or sludge in the late fall, when it's likely to pollute streams and ground water.
The Dagger, a Harford County news site, had reported that MDA indicated it would try to hammer out some consensus among the various disputants over the next two months. But Oberg said officials have set no time frame for the consultations.
Sen. Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican who's complained the rules could hasten the demise of farming in Maryland, has said he's mulling introducing legislation to head off some of the provisions farmers most object to.
He's focused in particular on the proposed ban on livestock in streams, which he contends would require that all water ways be fenced. That would amount to a regulatory "taking" of private property, Glassman argues, because farmers couldn't use the fenced-off stream buffer and couldn't get paid for it either under federal farm conservation programs.
(Photo: Barley blowing in wind near Hillsboro. 2008 Baltimore Sun photo by Glenn Fawcett)