Friday, October 28, 2011

Farmers Predict End of Maryland Agriculture in 10 Years

"The consensus from most folks I have spoken with agree that these new guidelines will hasten the demise of Maryland Agriculture to about 10 years down the road," emailed state Sen. Barry Glassman, a Republican representing Harford County who's heard from a lot of farmers in his area concerned about being required to fence livestock away from streams. Glassman works for Constellation Energy but raises sheep as a hobby.
Of course, this is a gigantic exaggeration of the extent of the hardship that farmers will face.  But exaggerated claims are also made for such things a global "we'll all die of heat stroke or drowning" warming, or ozone "omigod, we''ll all die of skin cancer" depletion, so these claims go on all sides.

What are the changes in farming practices that will need to be made?
- Curtailing the use of fertilizer on grain crops planted in the fall. Officials say research at the University of Maryland has shown nitrogen usually isn't needed at that time to produce abundant wheat and barley in the spring, and the added nutrients often wind up washing off the field into nearby streams and ultimately the bay.

- Requiring that animal manure, sewage sludge, wastewater and other "organic" fertilizers applied to crops be worked into the soil.

- Barring the common practice of spreading animal manure, treated sewage or food processing waste on fields in wintertime, requiring that they be stored until spring or diverted to other uses, such as burning them to produce energy.

- Forbidding fertilizer application within 10 to 35 feet of water ways. Farmers would have to fence off their pastures to keep livestock out of streams.
These practices will raise farmers costs, lower some of their yields, and, if enforced only on Chesapeake Bay farmers, could put them at a competitive disadvantage.  Will that put them all out of business?  I doubt it.  But it might be worth looking at which restrictions give the best result for the least effect on farm incomes.

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