Vol. 10, No. 5

January 31 - February 6, 2002

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It’s a Good Idea to Pay Farmers To Manage Pollution

Farmers these days have a tough row to hoe. They’re squeezed by pitiful prices paid for their crops because of corporate consolidation and a host of other factors.

They’re criticized for taking subsidies from government farm programs that force them to grow more food than we need.

Libertarians, college professors and budget conservatives wonder why we need so many farmers anyway.

Then farmers lose potential allies by blaming environmental advocates for their woes.

As we express our pro-farmer sentiments, we begin by praising Gov. Parris Glendening’s announcement that he will propose an additional $2.5 million in his budget for farmers.

The money will help farmers develop nutrient management plans, the plans they have been ordered to write to stanch the flow of fertilizers and manure from chickens and livestock into Maryland waterways. By the December, 2001 due date, 65 percent of farmland was covered.

Lest we forget, these Chesapeake-choking “nutrients” are perhaps the worst environmental problem plaguing the Bay.

Part of the new money will pay up to $20 per ton for excess manure to be transported to fertilizer-hungry farmlands elsewhere in the country. That means that wastes from the Eastern Shore chicken houses that once were spread interminably on land will wind up building richer growing soil rather than triggering oxygen-eating algae blooms in Chesapeake Bay.

Still another hunk of the money will boost Maryland’s cover-crop program by $500,000 to $3 million. Planting ground cover in the fall is a magnificently simple and effective strategy. First, it builds up the soil with natural fertilizer, since many cover crops produce nitrogen in their roots. Second, it stops topsoil from eroding. Third, it protects our Bay watershed from sediment.

Yes, state and federal money will be tight this year, but these programs for farmers are smart. In the future, we will look back at this period as the era when we put our money where our talk was in terms of getting a grip on nutrient pollution.

These expenditures are good for Marylanders and for family farmers, many of whom are struggling to remain in business. A fellow named Thomas Jefferson once said that our republic will be healthy so long as our land remains in many hands.

For the environment and democracy, helping farmers is wise.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly