We can’t af­ford to ‘wait and see’ on chicken farms

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Com­mu­nity Voice From CE­CIL LAND USE AS­SO­CI­A­TION

— 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.

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