After reading the commentary, "Bay is quietly dying as polluters pile on the manure," (September 2008) it appears to me that the only manure affecting the Bay comes from chickens. Whatever happened to the manure from cattle, pigs, goats and horses raised in the watershed?

Here in northern Pennsylvania, chickens are scarce. Instead, we have old empty chicken barns in various state of disrepair or collapse.

Cattle and pigs are far more common. It seems that the commentary is putting all of the responsibility for unresolved problems in the Chesapeake on the farmers spreading manure; that farmland pollutes more than other uses.

Any reader of the Bay Journal knows that manure is just one of many pollutants affecting the Bay, but let's stick with the manure issue. What should we do with the manure? Where do we put it now? Who pays for the shipping, treatment plant or whatever we do with it instead of spreading it on our fields?

Those poor few in the western part of Maryland (or any other farmer for that matter) certainly can't foot the bill. What do we use for fertilizer when the cost of man-made fertilizer is prohibitive and we can no longer spread manure directly on the fields?

The commentary is accurate in that not all farmland immediately reverts to development. But casual observation in rural areas shows that much of the former farmland eventually is developed. I have seen old farms standing empty and reverting to woods for maybe 10 years. Then the original owners pass on or local municipalities raise taxes.

Keeping the land unused is far to expensive. Ten, 15, maybe 20 years down the road, that empty land is subdivided, sold and converted into housing developments populated by people trying to get away from it all, a chain store that kills our small businesses, or an industrial park bringing new pollution.

These housing developments are primarily using septic systems, which often fail and in turn are dumping nitrogen and phosphorus from human manure into local streams.

Sure, we could build a treatment facility. Once again, we have the "who's going to pay for it?" quandary.

I can't speak for Maryland chicken farmers but I can tell you that many of the farmlands in this area are much more carefully farmed than in the past. Most farmers practice contour plowing. A number of local farms are using stream bank fencing or putting questionable lands into CREP and planting trees. Most of this work has been accomplished only in the last two years.

But trees take years to mature and become fully effective. The 2010 deadline will have come and gone long before these measures reach maximum effectiveness. It will take even longer if these trees are destroyed by disease, mice, deer or the stresses of a hard winter.

These measures could all be destroyed and replaced by something more polluting simply by removing these lands from the programs and selling them to a developer.

Let's not be too hasty to blame all of the problem with the water in the Bay on farmers. Let's also give farmers workable, affordable alternatives to traditional methods of handling manure.

This is a dairy farm community. The value of milk is such that farmers are receiving milk checks comparable to those of the '70s or '80s. Most farms are small and farmers simply cannot afford a huge financial layout. We need to either change the way milk prices are regulated so farmers can recoup their costs or provide state or federal money to fund new manure treatment methods.

Lisa Sumner
Middlebury Center, PA