Howard farmers, neighbors await recommendation on mulch

Staff Writer

(Dec. 16, 2014) A Howard County task force of farmers, residents and other appointees will likely make a recommendation on whether farmers on preserved agricultural land can produce mulch by early next year, county farming officials said.
That recommendation, initially due on Nov. 15, will go to the county council for consideration.
The issue of mulching on preserved farmland has been a red-hot issue in the county since a group of residents began protesting last spring after the county received requests by farmers to mulch on their property — activity some residents called “industrial mulching operations” that would endanger the health of nearby homeowners.
But the task force has gotten bogged down in the minutia of the legislation, delaying a recommendation, said Howard Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau.
“We cannot get anywhere with the task force. ... There is no compromise,” he said. “It’s been disappointing to me because I really thought we could have made some headway and made some recommendations. ... It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at least until probably the first of the year.”
Residents celebrated last month after Erich Bonner, who owns Oak Ridge Farm on Woodbine Road, paid a fine to the county and agreed to stop mulching until further notice after he was approached by the county for running what frustrated residents said was an industrial mulching facility.
He paid a $1,000 fine.
Some residents have said they fear an influx of noisy, potentially harmful industrial-sized mulching and wood processing facilities near their homes. Farmers said they fear more harsh restrictions would make it impossible to mulch and compost on their properties, which they’ve done historically.
Feaga has said he’d like the committee to reach a compromise, capping the activity to 5-10 percent of the farm property.
Conditional use requests for mulching on farmland in the county have been put on hold pending the council’s resolution of the issue.
“I think that there are a lot of non-agricultural people that… don’t understand the challenges that farmers face on a day to day basis,” said Leslie Bauer, the Farm Bureau’s secretary. “And the need for conditional use opportunities to make a farming operation viable.
“It seems that with them there’s no room for compromise.”
Representatives with the Dayton Rural Preservation Society, which has fought for more restrictive ordinances, could not be reached for comment.
Before sending the issue to the task force, the county council was considering two piece of legislation to deal with the mulching issue.
One would have allowed “natural wood waste recycling” but capped the activity at 2 percent of the property or up to one acre.
The other, submitted by a group of concerned residents, would have outlawed it entirely.