Sat, Feb

Expert Says Conservationists, Chesapeake Bay Farmers Must Work Together

Farmers often have been blamed for causing the Chesapeake Bay's pollution problems, but one environmental group says the bay can't survive without farmers.

CREAGERSTOWN — Farmers often have been blamed for causing the Chesapeake Bay's pollution problems, but one environmental group says the bay can't survive without farmers.

To save the bay, farms must be saved, said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We can't have one without the other."

Mr. Baker visited a Frederick County farm Thursday to discuss how conservationists and farmers can work together to achieve common goals.

"Farmers are the original stewards of the land," he said.

Well-managed farmland offers more health protections to the bay than land covered in asphalt and buildings because plants can absorb and filter pollutants, he said.

Yet, a CBF report released last month found increasing financial challenges threaten the future of farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a 64,000-square-mile area comprised mainly of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The number of farms in those bay states dropped from about 350,000 to about 100,000 in the last 50 years, according to the report, "Vital Signs, Assessing the State of Chesapeake Agriculture in 2005."

The costs of farming have continued to go up, while earnings on commodities have remained nearly the same, he said.

If farmers are to survive, they must be able to make a profit, he said.

He encouraged local residents to ask their elected officials to support initiatives that preserve farmland and that improve the economics of farming, such as tax relief.

"We don't have a problem that needs a solution," he said. "We only have a problem that needs to be adequately funded."

Jack Lynch is vice chairman of Friends of Frederick County, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation that arranged Thursday's meeting.

Mr. Lynch said property taxes were set up at a time when owning lots of land used to signify wealth.

"That's not really true anymore," he said.

Farmers today must work hundreds of acres to try to break even, said Barry Lucey, who farmed in Creagerstown for decades until dropping milk prices prompted him to retire several years ago.

He said he is pleased environmentalists and farmers are uniting to solve problems.

Farmers have been leery in the past of getting involved with conservation programs because they feared regulations could cost them land or money, he said.

"I used every square inch of this place (when farming)," he said. "I didn't have the money to fence cows out of streams."

Friends of Frederick County hopes to create more opportunities for people to share ideas about how to aid farmers and protect the environment at the same time, he said.

Rather than point the finger at farmers, every resident must recognize how he or she also causes water pollution, he said.

"The bad guy is all of us. Everybody contributes to the problem," he said.

More fertilizer, for example, is wasted on lawns than farms, agreed Delegate Paul Stull, R-Frederick.

Farmers have nutrient management plans that ensure they don't use more fertilizer than needed so that excess isn't washed into streams. Most homeowners, however, haven't been educated about how to use fertilizers properly. Many just buy whatever they've been told will give them a green lawn and start spreading without any regard for safe levels, he said.

He said local schools have done a good job teaching children about where their food comes from, but now the county must find ways to encourage young people to farm.

"If we don't, we're all going to be living in New York City," he said.

Developing a program that creates a land buffer between new housing projects and existing farms would help protect farmers from some of the problems that come when houses are located near fields, said Robert Black, co-owner of Catoctin Mountain Orchard.

He said farmers often work late at night or early in the morning, but new residents might be disturbed if no trees or other sound barriers are located between their homes and the farms.

Reducing the amount of paperwork required to participate in conservation programs also might encourage more farmers to sign up because they work long hours and don't have time to spend on paperwork, he said.

The most critical action residents can take to preserve farmland is to buy locally produced products, he said.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News