Farm­ers’ frus­tra­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

The frus­tra­tion felt by lo­cal farm­ers over their treat­ment by the General Assem­bly is un­der­stand­able. It seems that ev­ery year, bills are filed that would lead to sub­stan­tial changes in the East­ern Shore’s top in­dus­try. In­cre­men­tal changes, we can un­der­stand, and likely our farm­ers can, too.

Del­e­gate Jay Ja­cobs (R-Kent), who also rep­re­sents Ce­cil County as part of Dis­trict 36, of­fered a sug­ges­tion at this year’s Kent County Farm Bureau ban­quet held late last month. Any law­maker whose home county is not in at least 51 per­cent agri­cul­ture should not be al­lowed to file a bill reg­u­lat­ing farm­ers. The real point Ja­cobs was mak­ing was about who is propos­ing new agri­cul­ture reg­u­la­tions. It seems the most con­tro­ver­sial bills are com­ing from law­mak­ers in ur­ban coun­ties, well re­moved from ac­tual pro­duc­ers.

“They don’t have a clue what you do. They’ve never stepped on a poul­try farm. They’ve never stepped on a dairy farm. And yet, they want to put in leg­is­la­tion that will have a huge im­pact (on farm­ers),” Ja­cobs told the pro­duc­ers at the March 26 ban­quet.

We ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­forts of Joe Barten­felder, Mary­land’s sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, since he took of­fice last year. A farmer him­self, Barten­felder is work­ing to ed­u­cate law­mak­ers and cit­i­zens about the re­al­i­ties of farm­ing. He speaks with lo­cal and fed­eral of­fi­cials as well, lis­ten­ing to is­sues and push­ing the state’s pri­or­i­ties.

Barten­felder pre­vi­ously de­scribed this year’s most con­tro­ver­sial agri­cul­ture-re­lated bill, aimed at poul­try lit­ter, as “kind of like a punch in the gut.” The bill seeks to make poul­try com­pa­nies like Per­due re­spon­si­ble for trans­port­ing ex­cess chicken ma­nure from farms.

Af­ter years of de­bate, Mary­land launched a new set of nu­tri­ent man­age­ment reg­u­la­tions for farms last year. They limit the amount of phos­pho­rus — a nu­tri­ent found in chicken lit­ter — that farm­ers can spread on fields as fer­til­izer. Barten­felder, speak­ing at the farm bureau ban­quet, said the reg­u­la­tions in­clude a cost-share pro­gram help­ing pro­duc­ers trans­port ex­cess chicken lit­ter from their farms. He said the new pro­posal cur­rently in the General Assem­bly would do away with that pro­gram.

Cit­i­zens have taken a re­newed in­ter­est in where their food comes from and how it is pro­duced. There are count­less books and doc­u­men­taries pro­vid­ing con­sumers with a de­tailed look at the na­tion’s food and agri­cul­ture in­dus­try. Some of the prac­tices we are learn­ing more and more about are cause for con­cern.

Pile on top of that the sen­si­tiv­ity of the Shore’s ecosys­tem and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and it is no won­der we see bills ev­ery year in the General Assem­bly aimed at agri­cul­ture.

Our farm­ers are mak­ing great strides and chang­ing their prac­tices to bet­ter the en­vi­ron­ment and lo­cal water­ways. They de­serve our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for that. They are not off the hook, though, for find­ing bet­ter and more ef­fi­cient ways to re­duce nu­tri­ent and sed­i­ment pol­lu­tion.

We also need to rec­og­nize that there is no valve to halt pol­lu­tion com­pletely, un­less, that is, agri­cul­ture on the Shore is shut down. But then, that will open the door to mas­sive res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment, which brings with it its own forms of pol­lu­tion that are much more dif­fi­cult to ad­dress.

Law­mak­ers also must re­al­ize that agri­cul­ture reg­u­la­tions trickle down to those who are not pro­duc­ers. Sev­eral years ago, a poul­try pro­cess­ing plant in Cor­dova was slated to close. Our law­mak­ers won the fight to keep it open and main­tain jobs. Cit­ing con­tin­ued in­sta­bil­ity in state reg­u­la­tions, the com­pany an­nounced ear­lier this year that it will close the plant and re­lo­cate op­er­a­tions to Delaware. That im­pacts 300 em­ploy­ees who may not be able to com­mute that far for work.

Not all new farm reg­u­la­tions are bad, nor do we think those propos­ing them are do­ing so with ma­li­cious in­tent. There is a lot at stake in­clud­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy.

Mean­while, the an­nual de­bates and ac­com­pa­ny­ing pub­lic­ity stunts con­tinue to leave top em­ploy­ers con­cerned about the vi­a­bil­ity of main­tain­ing their pres­ence in Mary­land, which is not good.

Our hope is that Barten­felder and the Mary­land Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture con­tinue on their cam­paigns to ed­u­cate peo­ple more and more about farm­ing, while pro­duc­ers con­tinue to be open to new meth­ods of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

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