Water regulations unfair to farmers, contribute to sprawl

How ironic to find, in the October Bay Journal, two articles featuring Gov. Paris Glendening’s efforts to curb sprawl. The reality is that through his misguided policies on agriculture, this governor has played right into the hands of developers of farmlands. As it stands, his legacy will be the accelerated conversion of open space, rampant development and sprawl.

As a farmer, I deny neither the existence of agricultural pollution, nor the need to address the issue. Nutrient management planning, in and of itself, is a good idea. Mandating that plans be written by state-certified consultants to conform to awkward and ill-conceived regulations rife with irrationalities and inconsistencies is not.

The failure of the voluntary program to deal with phosphorus was a failure of science, not a failure of environmental conscience in the agricultural community. Once the problem was recognized, the industry moved rapidly to address it — voluntarily.

In the case of nitrogen, you can apply the appropriate amount at the appropriate time and plan for a cover crop to scavenge what the crop can’t use, for example, in the event of a summer drought. But if, as in 1999, the remnants of a hurricane sweep up the coast and dump 17 inches of rain in the middle of September, that unused nitrogen is going to be lost anyway.

In choosing the politically expedient route of mandatory nutrient management plans, the administration not only insulted farmers, who feel unappreciated and misunderstood, but also lost an opportunity to get to the roots of most agricultural pollution.

The modern agricultural landscape was not created by farmers alone. If it is to be changed, we need something other than government regulation and programs. We need broad-based consumer support for an environmentally sensible agriculture featuring more agro-forestry and buffer crops.

The frustration and discouragement of farmers is not lost on developers, who are aggressively advertising to an all-too-receptive audience.

We are indeed at a crisis. The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 needs to be scrapped and replaced with a policy grounded in the understanding that our agriculture is shaped by society as a whole, not be farmers alone, and is built on a solid foundation of respect and appreciation for, and trust in Maryland farmers.

M. Chase Tanner
Federalsburg, MD

Menhaden critical to recovery of Bay

This is to congratulate Jim Price for his fine commentary on the Atlantic menhaden that appeared in the October issue of Bay Journal. I would like to amplify the importance of rebuilding the menhaden stock because, as Mr. Price points out, they fulfill an important function by removing phyto– and zooplankton directly from the water column by filter feeding.

We have heard a lot in recent months about rebuilding oyster stocks in the Bay and how their filter feeding activity will benefit the Bay’s water quality.

Oysters, though, live on the bottom and therefore only filter water that is at or near the bottom sediments. They must wait until detrital particles sink to the bottom before they can filter them out.

Menhaden, on the other hand, feed in surface waters and remove phyto– and zooplankton much more efficiently than waiting for it to sink to the bottom. This directly benefits water clarity, one of the three parameters the Bay Program is proposing as indicators of the Bay’s water quality.

As I have stated before in this publication, I believe that the menhaden fishery needs to be managed to increase its numbers because these fish are critical to the Bay’s ecology and are in serious decline at the present time.

Lastly, I would like to offer the following limerick:

“In the East, there is Chesapeake Bay,

It has too much chlorophyll a,

Said the Fed, clean it well,

Or there’ll be a TMDL,

All enforced by the EPA.”

John Martin
Baltimore, MD