Combine and conquer (Editorial)

(Jan. 26, 2016) You’ve seen them, dog owners walking their pets in a local park.
They will be carrying a plastic bag and a couple of papers towels and after the dog does its thing, the owner will bend over, pick up the deposit and put it in the plastic bag, before proceeding on the outing.
Now, 22 organizations, headed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Food & Water Watch and the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, have banded together to support legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to require poultry companies to do essentially the same thing — to be responsible for picking up after their birds.
It’s called the Poultry Litter Management Act which, according to the press release, “would require poultry companies to take responsibility for the manure their chickens produce. Excess manure can saturate farm fields and pollute local creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay if not handled properly. The legislation will seek to protect Maryland farmers and taxpayers from costs that should be borne by the large poultry companies.”
Specifically, under the bill, poultry companies would be responsibile for the removal and proper disposal of “all poultry litter for which a chicken grower does not have state-approved plans.”
“A responsible dog owner picks up after his or her dogs. Poultry companies must be responsible for cleaning up after their chickens,” said Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “The big companies own the birds, and control almost all aspects of the chicken production process, but they bear no responsibility for any manure left behind.”
“The issue is urgent,” the coalition of environmental organizations argues. “The amount of excess chicken manure in Maryland could soon be even greater. Large industrial farms are expanding — including 200 new poultry houses now permitted for construction on the Delmarva Peninsula.”
The legislation — reportedly still in the making — appears to ignore nutrient management removal practices and techniques and in some cases removal practices which have been in place by the poultry companies for years.
It seems to us to be yet another attempt to disable the poultry industry, a major engine driving Maryland’s economy and indeed, the life blood of the Delmarva Peninsula.
Julie DeYoung, who heads corporate communication for Perdue, responded that, from the company’s perspective, “Perdue has already invested, and continues to invest, millions of dollars in directly assisting farmers in responsibly managing their poultry litter, as well as supporting other environmental initiatives to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.”
DeYoung got specific.
“Because we’ve long believed it is the right thing to do for the farmers who raise our chickens and for the Chesapeake Bay,” she said. “Perdue has provided an alternative to land application of poultry litter for almost 15 years.
“Since 2001,” DeYoung continued, we have invested more than $50 million in Perdue AgriRecycle, which converts chicken litter to organic fertilizer. Perdue remains the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region providing a large-scale alternative to land application of poultry litter.
“In addition, since 2002, Perdue Farms has fully funded grower participation in the Maryland manure transport fund so that any farmer raising chickens for Perdue can take advantage of this program. Perdue has paid nearly $2 million into the Maryland manure transport fund just since 2006.”
In the environmental debate, in the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, farmers and the ag industry as a whole are, and always have been labeled as villains, constantly at loggerheads with the environmental community.
Farmers and the farming industry, historically, have been on the defensive — out-numbered, out-financed.
The problem in this whole thing is that it has taken on the character of our culture.
It is confrontational, polarizing, pitting opposing views one against the other, apparently with no attempt at conversation, no attempt at compromise.
That is so discouraging.
Get everybody together — the top people, farmers, ag industry reps, environmental leaders, Bay scientists, watermen, fishermen, federal and state officials, anyone with the slightest interest in the Bay.
And just encourage them to talk. Get to know each other. Maybe even make a friend or two.
Confrontation is a locked door. Let’s put the key in and open it.