AmericanFarm.com

Somerset beset with ag issues (Editorial)

Somerset County is the southernmost of the so-called Lower Shore counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
As if they had run downstream, like a river, a number of intrusions into the county’s normally placid, rural environment have gathered in Somerset.
A group of Somerset countians is protesting the construction of a covey of six poultry houses on a neighborhood farm. In a letter to The Daily Times, Maryland Ag Secretary Buddy Hance reminded those citizens that both Maryland’s and the county’s right-to-farm laws protect the farmer’s right to use his or her land in whatever way he or she chooses, as long as it’s part of his agricultural operation and within certain other guidelines.
Not far away, a larger citizen protest grows against a proposed wind farm. As envisioned, it would involve about 200 farm properties in the area of Marion Station and the construction of some 50 wind turbines, 25 turbines in the first phase of construction. The turbines would rise between 400 and 600 feet in the air.
Opponents of the wind farm summoned a recent public forum on the project, at which they recited a litany of objections ranging from bird kills to property value depreciation. (See story, Page 1).
Elsewhere, in the community of county officials, there seems to be support for the wind farm and Pioneer Green Energy, which has been working in the county since 2010 to pave the way for the project and remains confident it will ultimately get a stamp of approval.
Then, there’s the battle by the farm community against the implementation by the state ag department of the so-called Phosphorous Management Tool which could prohibit the use of chicken litter as fertilizer on many farms.
The required use of the PMT would most severely penalize farmers in the Lower Shore counties who, through the years, have been able to avoid the cost of commercial fertilizer in favor of the abundance of poultry manure coming from the area’s plethora of chicken houses.
Farmers, environmentalists and the Gov. Martin O’Malley administration have been anxiously awaiting the results of an economic analysis of the PMT project.
What are the relative costs here, the cost to the farm community of cutting off the use of poultry litter as opposed to the alleged cost to the health of the Chesapeake Bay by limiting its phosphorous intake from farm runoff?
Well, the long-awaited report of the economics at play in all of this, which had been in the hands of the MDA for most of October, came close to the surface last week but elaborate plans to release it (including a teleconference for the media, for example) were yanked 12 hours later. Lacking any explanation, farmers on the Lower Shore speculated that MDA and the governor found it too hot to handle.
Then there is this. A firm in Salisbury is seeking farmers on the Lower Shore — and that, of course, includes Somerset — who are willing to grow marijuana.
Troubled, beleaguered Somerset might be tempted to use some of that weed.