We can’t afford to ‘wait and see’ on chicken farms
— We recently read the Community Voice opinion piece from the Cecil County Farm Bureau (We must recognize the right to farm, Aug. 19). While we recognize and strongly support our farmers’ right to farm, some forms of agriculture need tighter controls.
The farm bureau’s column paints an idyllic picture of family farms, which is one that all of us can agree with, conjuring up rural vistas of cropland and pastures,
grazing cattle and horses, Victorian farmhouses, clusters of outbuildings, and the occasional farm stand or ice cream store marketing value-added products that were grown on the property.
However, as corporate agribusiness moves into Cecil County, the picture changes rather dramatically.
Rather than relying on the land to grow the produce or feed the animals, mushroom and chicken businesses primary use of the land is to erect acres of warehouses, covering over prime agricultural soils in the process, and to dispose of the waste, provided the remaining land still has the nutrient carrying capacity to absorb it.
Driving south on Route 213, a Maryland Scenic Byway, the new Meck chicken houses are a case in point. After crossing the Bohemia River and driving through woods and fields, a long metal building fills the windshield. Likewise, driving north on Hopewell Road, the compost turners from the mushroom farm occasionally spew manure over the road, and when the wind is in the wrong direction, the smell pervades the town of Rising Sun. Tourists, businesses and residents are all adversely affected.
It is true that chicken farms have a lot of regulations, but maybe not exactly what we need to assure the maintenance of the prized rural character of Cecil County. A wise businessman observed, “You can produce and thrive as long as people don’t have to look at what you are doing.” That wasn’t meant to skirt regulation, but to be sensitive to the views people love in their surroundings.
One avenue to protecting the rural character of Cecil County is to assure vegetative buffering when permanent changes to the view are made. This would make it easier to keep our agri-tourism alive and growing. If effective buffering requirements had been in place in Cecil County, the Meck chicken houses could have been screened from the roadway.
But looks are not everything. Air quality, whether particulate or odors, will carry to neighbors. Significant setbacks have substantially reduced those irritants that are annoying but for some a serious health issue. Kent County has 600-foot buffers from the chicken house to all property lines. Should the Horst proposal go in and be just fine because there is a 600-foot setback, which includes a vegetated buffer, that doesn’t prevent future locations from meeting only the current minimal setbacks of 100 feet from the property line and 300 feet from the nearest dwelling with no screening requirements.
Water quality is also under threat, since confined animal feeding operations tend to produce more waste than the farmland can absorb. Exporting that waste is a costly solution which we all help pay for through Maryland’s Manure Transport Program, and it just transfers the problem somewhere else. A sustainable approach would be to ensure that the farmer has enough land to responsibly use the waste. Kent County has just such a provision in their ordinance.
Planning conservatively makes sense, especially now that high volume chicken farms are sought in the county by Perdue. A ‘wait and see’ approach is not appropriate. While we support the farmers’ right to farm, adequate controls are not yet in place and need to be strengthened.