- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Farmers failed to file nutrient management plans for about half of the farmland in Maryland by the March 1 deadline, the state Department of Agriculture says.

The agency said it will start sending certified warning letters in mid-April, threatening fines for those who don’t comply with the requirement, which is aimed at reducing fertilizer runoff into Maryland waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

“It is our intent to aggressively work with the ag community in achieving the goals of the law,” said Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley.

Farmers who fail to file plans are subject to fines of up to $250 initially and up to $100 per day for continued violations, with a maximum of $2,000 annually. The penalties are among the changes made last year in the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998.

The law requires all Maryland farmers grossing $2,500 or more annually or raising 8,000 pounds or more of live animal weight to run their operations according to plans that address their use of nitrogen and phosphorus. The March 1 deadline is for phosphorus plans.

The Agriculture Department said it had received plans for about 48 percent of the nearly 2.1 million acres of farmland statewide. Many more plans were in the process of being filed, the agency said.

In Washington County, home to 765 farms, including 153 dairy farms, plans for most of the 125,000 agricultural acres have been filed, said Jeff Semler, the local University of Maryland Extension agent.

“Other people don’t understand it, and when they get that form from the government, they throw it away. Or they call us and they panic, and we walk them through it,” Mr. Semler told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

He said the state will wait for those who already have begun writing plans. Those who risk state fines are “basically the people that stuck their heels in the sand,” refusing to comply, Mr. Semler said.

The state said farm operators who submitted plans before 2005 should have received a one-page Annual Implementation Report and instruction sheet in the mail. A different packet, containing a Nutrient Management Reporting Form, was sent to those who had not submitted plans, the agency said.

Copies of the form are available at the Agriculture Department’s regional nutrient management offices or online at www.mda.state.md.us, the agency said.

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