This Week’s Headlines
Maryland ag in a state of flux (Editorial)
(Dec. 9, 2014) As we work (and in some cases play) our way through the holiday season and into the New Year, there has been a great deal of discussion about the future of agriculture on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Discussions of that sort normally arise — and they slowly emerge — from an environment that is worried about the subject which it is discussing.
Agriculture on the Eastern Shore? There is plenty to worry about. But at least one major aggravation for farmers, one major player in the on-going discussions,will have moved on.
Gov. Martin O.Malley departs his desk and his office on Jan. 21 taking his “green agenda” with him but having done his best to thank the environmental community for its support through the years.
Witness his legacy:
Through what has all the markings of legislative manipulation, he may be able to sign the bill implementing the Phosphorous Management Tool before he leaves office.
A deal he had struck with a major supporter who wished to lease a large tract in Kent County for $1 a year to create a “real food” food hub, fell through. A similar deal now rests in the lap of the Easton Town Council.
With what was O’Malley’s blessing, it is now legal to grow marijuana in Maryland, and a firm called Tidewater Technologies is attempting to line up farmers to grow the weed.
For the state’s agricultural community, the PMT pot is on the front burner. As the Maryland Register began publication of the PMT regulation and a month-long public comment period began, O’Malley’s office, in a statement, called animal waste “the most significant phosphorus pollution source harming the Chesapeake Bay and rivers on the Eastern Shore. So we’re moving forward with tools — endorsed by scientists and experts across the state — that will play a key role in restoring the health of the Bay.”
And as if to wish him goodbye, a coalition of nonprofit organizations called on the Maryland General Assembly to support the proposed PMT measure.
The Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition says the latest version of the regulation includes “a reasonable implementation plan” including several exemptions for certain farms and a six-year phase-in timetable.
“Studies show phosphorus pollution is getting worse, not better — yet this regulation has been repeatedly delayed,” said Karla Raettig of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
What is completely overlooked in this dash to the legislative wire is the cost of PMT in dollars to agriculture and in human existence.
The farmers of Maryland, particularly on the Shore grow the corn and soybeans which provide the feed for the poultry industry, the bedrock of the Delmarva economy.
Limiting — or in some case banning — the use of poultry litter for fertilizer and forcing farmers to turn to commercial fertilizer to grow those crops could bankrupt them.
That’s no kidding. A Somerset County grower has testified that at the cost of today’s commercial fertilizer he would have to fork out at least $150,000 to feed his land.
The Maryland governor appears to have forgotten his praise of farmers when on Dec. 6 the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service released a new report showing a record number of voluntary conservation practices adopted by Chesapeake Bay farmers since 2006. The effort has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus chemicals leaving cultivated croplands, the USDA said.
“This report underscores what we have known in Maryland for quite some time: Our farmers are strong environmental stewards who continue to lead in enhancing the way nutrients are used on their farms,” O’Malley said at the time.
Apparently in high office, you are allowed to have your feet on both sides of the center yellow line without fear of being run over.
The Maryland Farm Bureau summed it up this way: “Maryland Farm Bureau believes there is new and more accurate science along with more valuable processes available to address the nutrients in the bay that need to be used. We believe that by implementing the PMT, you not only put an unbearable economic burden on the family farms in Maryland, but you also use valuable bay cleanup funding that might be better used for this new science and actually achieve Maryland’s 2025 water quality goals.
The Eastern Shore delegation to the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Committee, which released the PMT measure for publication in the Register, will get it back for discussion at the end of the comment period.