MFB delegates discuss solar energy, nutrient trading

AFP Correspondent

OCEAN CITY, Md. (Dec. 13, 2016) — While Maryland Farm Bureau adopted several new policy resolutions for 2017, only two topics — commercial solar energy facilities and nutrient trading — received extended discussion and debate at the group’s annual convention.
Debate on commercial solar facilities largely centered on a landowner’s property rights versus the rising loss of cropland and farmers’ access to it.
“They bought that property, they should be able to do what they want,” said Joe Kuhn of Carroll County.
Other delegates who spoke said the issue should stay at the county level, while it was added the state’s Public Service Commission could override a county’s decision on an energy project.
With the solar industry subsidized through grants and tax credits, Harry Moreland of Caroline County said “farmers are forced to compete against their own tax dollars to rent or lease farmland.”
Delegates voted to oppose such facilities receiving an agricultural tax assessment, supported removing large-scale commercial facilities from the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard carve-out for solar energy and voted to “not support commercial solar energy facilities on prime and productive farmland.”
Delegates also approved policy that facilities “should have appropriate riparian buffer and setback requirements.”
Under the Farm Bureau’s Agricultural Viability section, delegates voted to support wedding and event venues as an accessory use on a working farm.
Under its Cost Share Programs section, delegates voted to recommend that state and federal “resources be increased and or the approval process be streamlined to reduce a backlog of cost share applications.”
Under the Crop Protection section, delegates voted to oppose “state and local restrictions of pesticides beyond those that are currently approved by the federal government.”
Consideration of proposed resolutions continued on Tuesday with minimal or no discussion of most items. Nutrient trading policy language, however, was contentious and prompted the only extended debate of the day.
The proposed language would have removed support for voluntary mechanisms for nutrient reduction.
Instead, the proposed policy would stipulate that Maryland Farm Bureau opposed nutrient trading in Maryland.
Several delegates spoke in opposition to the proposed change, arguing that outright opposition to nutrient trading would remove Farm Bureau from the table during consideration by state agencies.
Delegates rejected the policy change¸ opting to retain the original language and give staff the room to work with the agencies and impact the discussion.
Also adopted without discussion was a provision to “oppose to using the wastewater treatment plant’s portion of the flush tax dollars to jump start a Maryland nutrient trading program.”
One proposal added some humor to the morning. Delegates considered proposed policy in support of shooting bears “that are in the process of damaging bee hives.”
Amid allusions to Winnie the Pooh and questions whether the bear had to have its paw dripping with honey, a delegate explained that it is now permissible to shoot a bear that is attacking a human or an animal and that the provision would put bees on par with other animals. The provision was adopted.
Delegates brought back two items not recommended by the Farm Bureau’s Resolutions Committee and adopted two new aquaculture policies.
One supports allowing shellfish and aquaculture to be used as a nutrient trading option for Maryland to meet its water quality goals.
The other opposes aquaculture production being used as a nutrient trading tool. A number of proposed policy revisions were adopted by the delegates without discussion.
They include support for:
• Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.’s best management practices for good neighbor relations, which cover house location on property, manure handling practices, carcass disposal systems, vegetative buffers, odor prevention and control and contact with neighbors;
• Annual, rather than biannual, collection of used farm tires by the state;
• A school year that ends no later than June 15. Policy already supports beginning the school year after Labor Day;
• The University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources in its role in the development of future farmers, agriculture leaders, ag teachers, Extension agents and scientists;
• Additional resources to the University of Maryland to continue and expand the agriculture education major; and
• Extending the deer hunting season through February.
The delegates approved deletion of several policies without discussion.
These included provisions to:
• Urge a search for a suitable reclamation process for plastic wrap used in agriculture. Staff explained that this was covered in other policy provisions;
• Call for the collection of all used farm tires as long as funds are available in the Tire Fund without raising fees;
• Request that the tire recycling fee levied on new tire purchases be used exclusively for research into tire recycling and to subsidize actual tire recycling projects; and
• Support a farm tire amnesty program.
One of the few proposals to be defeated by the delegates, a suggestion to add marestail (Conyza canadensis) to the state’s noxious weed list, provoked only brief discussion.
(Managing Editor Sean Clougherty contributed to this article.)