County Backs Farmers in Nutrient Plan Changes

SNOW HILL – Despite spending little time discussing the new state pollution permits for large poultry farms, the Worcester County Commissioners voted this week to support the anti-regulation stance of the Worcester County Farm Bureau. 

Maryland has drafted new permitting regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), in response to a 2004 federal law. The proposed regulations will enforce the use of the most effective ways to keep animal manure from reaching streams, rivers, and bays.

 The draft proposal from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) mandates that farmers operating poultry houses over 75,000 square feet prepare a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP).

The new CNMP governs more aspects of manure and nutrient handling at the larger poultry operations than the already established nutrient management plans, which cover only the application and storage of chicken manure. The CNMP includes manure storage and handling, disposal of dead birds, feed management, and land management.

The proposed new permit also requires buffer setbacks from waters of the state for manure spreading and storage.

The Worcester County Farm Bureau, which represents about half of Worcester’s 403 farms, objects to several provisions of the plan, bureau president Danny Holland informed the Worcester County Commissioners this week.

“We’re looking for some support to try to change some of these regulations,” Holland said. He asked for a letter of support from the commissioners to be submitted to the state at the March 24 hearing on the draft at Wor-Wic Community College.

Further public hearings will be held later this year, after the comments on the draft proposal are taken into account.

The nutrient management plans required by the 1998 water quality act are enough, Holland felt.

“Maryland farmers have done a good job of implementing practices that improve water quality,” said Holland. “The vast majority of farmers are doing what’s right.”

The new approach creates more problems than it solves, he said.

“The proposed regulations are burdensome in paperwork and money,” said Holland.

The new plan could cost between $4,000 and $8,000 for some farmers.

The farm bureau will ask for three changes to the draft proposal. Initial enforcement of the new permit requirements should be by the Maryland Department of the Agriculture (MDA), Holland said, not the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Any problems could be taken care of ‘in house’, before fines are imposed.

MDA does not have enforcement authority over pollution regulations, however. The farm bureau also wants the CNMP eliminated.

“We don’t feel the benefits are anywhere near the problems it creates for the farmer,” said Holland.

Funding must be offered to make the required changes, he told the commissioners. One regulation, that manure may only be stored outside for 14 days, creates a need for more covered storage structures, which are expensive.

Some state money will be offered to defray the costs of best management practices and developing the CNMP, although future funding is not assured.

“I don’t know very much about farming. What you say makes a lot of sense to me, but I don’t know what questions to ask,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

Holland said he would ask for support from Somerset and Wicomico Counties as well.

“There’s a lot of farmers really concerned about this,” Holland said.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas stressed the importance of farming to the local community and urged her colleagues to support the bureau.

“Farmers are extremely important in the county,” she said. “Farmers need to stay.”

The commissioners voted unanimously, after little discussion, to write a letter of support for the Worcester County Farm Bureau’s desired changes to the farm pollution permitting regulations.

“I was disappointed that the commissioners voted to do this, to write a letter against the proposal,” said water quality advocate and Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, who attended the commissioner meeting but did not speak. “We haven’t even seen the final proposal.”

Phillips felt the commissioners needed to do more research and think about the regulations before making a decision.

Complying with pollution regulations is part of the cost of doing business for wastewater treatment plants and paper mills, she said.

However, Phillips said, the cost burden should not rest entirely with the farmers. The poultry processing companies pitch in.

The permits, which are required by federal law, will be approved. 

“This is not something that’s really up for discussion. The permitting is going to happen no matter what they say,” Phillips said. “Any industry that has the potential to pollute waters of the state is subject to permitting regulations.”