Workshops aim to pull local officials up to speed on laws concerning agriculture
QUEENSTOWN, Md. — As more people move into rural areas, the potential for conflict with farmers rises.
Maryland’s Right to Farm law offers farmers certain protections when conflicts arise but local officials who get involved may not have a clear understanding of the law and how modern farms operate.
To address that, University of Maryland Extension and its Agriculture Law Education Initiative organized workshops to give local government employees information on current farming issues and the state’s right to farm law.
Paul Goeringer, Extension legal specialist, said farmers have a good grasp of their right to farm protections but have voiced concern that officials in their county including zoning and planning officials and members of the agricultural reconciliation boards may not have a clear understanding.
“I realized I could talk to the ag community until I was blue in the face but talking to this audience I could have a different impact,” Goeringer said.
He said ALEI has been successful in the past in holding training workshops for realtors to include and emphasize right-to-farm guidelines in their rural property deals and with funding from the Maryland Grain Producers Association, shifted attention to people in local government.
“I just took that idea and said, ‘Why don’t we bring in this audience and talk about ag issues?’” Goerniger said.
Called “What’s That Smell?” Understanding Modern Agriculture and What Officials Need to Know, the first workshop was held Sept. 17 at the Higher Education Center at Chesapeake College.
A second workshop with the same agenda is scheduled for Oct. 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at at the Lower Shore American Job Center in Salisbury.
Goeringer said they focused the first two workshops on the Eastern Shore to address poultry and grain farming issues that have generated a lot of complaints but hopes it can expand statewide.
“Hopefully we do this on the westside next year and keep it going,” he said.
At the workshop last week, Goeringer and other Extension staffers briefed attendees on modern farming practices from conservation, nutrient management, and permitting for irrigation and animal feeding operations.
“There is a lot of oversight of what farmers are doing,” said Dr. Nicole Fiorellino, Extension agronomist who discussed the basics of crop production including different tillage practices, staging poultry litter for field application and nutrient management planning. “I’d say Maryland farmers are some of the most progressive in the country.”
Dr. Jon Moyle, Extension poultry specialist gave an overview of the poultry industry and the rules farmers need to follow.
“I will guarantee you I help people comply with rules and regulations more than anything else,” he said, before discussing heavy area use pads at poultry house doors, manure storage on poultry farms and recommended good neighbor practices for poultry farmers.
One practice that has stirred controversy recently but has been happening for decades is field application of the byproduct of Dissolved Air Flotation or DAF from processing plants. The skimmed material is a registered soil amendment with the State Chemist and is used by some farmers as a soil amendment.
Moyle said odor is the main reason for complaints but he’s been to farms where harsh odor wasn’t present as it was being applied.
“It’s actually bugging me because I can’t figure out why it smells sometimes and not other times,” he said.
It is recommended that it be injected into he soil followed by tillage to incorporate it further in the soil and manager odor.
Reviewing water use, Mayhah Suri, Extension environmental specialist, told attendees 30 percent of the state’s farmland is irrigated and permits are required for anyone withdrawing more than 10,000 gallons per day for agricultural use as an annual average.
Goeringer said the Maryland right to farm law stipulates an operation must be agricultural in nature, been operating for at least a full year and be in compliance with applicable laws, regulations and permits.
An important feature to the state law, Goeringer added, is that a complaint must first be heard by a county agriculture reconciliation board or state mediation program.
Since the law was established, a right to farm case has not been heard in court, he said, speaking to the effectiveness of mediation.
Kay-Megan Washington, director of the Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service said the program is a voluntary, no-cost or low-cost process that introduces a neutral third party into the conflict discussion to work toward a solution. She said in many cases, the two conflicting parties hadn’t talked to one another before mediation and while it doesn’t deliver a verdict, it often saves both sides time and money in not going to court and improves their relationship.
Unsure of what turnout would be for the first-of-its kind workshop, Goeringer said he was pleased with the more than 30 people that attended.
Rick Dwyer, codes administrator in Wicomico County’s Permits and Inspections Division, said after recently going through the permitting process for constructing a new wastewater storage tank that stirred controversy with some residents, he said coming to the workshop could be helpful with future agricultural issues.
“This seemed liked a good opportunity to educate ourselves on a lot of these issues,” Dwyer said.
“A lot of it was what we thought we knew already and hearing it from a team of experts, we feel more confident in our decision making.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925