- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Farmers and environmentalists who came to the state capital Monday to discuss new federal money to clean the Chesapeake Bay said they want to take better care of their land but need more help from government on how to reduce pollution while staying profitable.

The money, roughly $188 million in the 2008 federal Farm Bill, will go to farmers across the Bay’s six-state watershed to reduce pollution from fertilizer and animal waste. The five-year spending plan is aimed at helping states meet goals toward improving water quality in the county’s largest estuary.

The farmers and environmental groups at the one-day “listening session” in Annapolis frequently told Agriculture Department officials not to let the additional cleanup funding replace money already being spent on conservation. They also asked the officials to stop studying the pollution problem and start spending money to fix it. Officials also were urged to use the money to hire more government agents to convince farmers why they should implement pollution-reducing measures and how to do it without losing money.

“We’re looking at thousands of farm visits,” said Ricky Rash, president of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “We must have the bodies.”

Farmers complained that federal and state governments say they want to clean up farms, a major source of soil and nutrient pollution, then cut staffers who could tell farmers how to be better stewards of the land.

“Technical assistance is really the key,” said Jim Michael, a cattle and grain farmer from Berkeley Springs, W.Va. “It’s just as important as dollars.”

Farmers and environmental activists also agreed that the money will do little good if it simply replaces what’s already being spent toward conservation goals in the watershed. They also said the money should go toward broadening existing cleanup efforts such as paying farmers to plant wintertime cover crops to prevent fertilizer pollution or paying them to plant grasses and trees near streams as buffers - not toward research.

“Our programs are basically sound,” said Jennifer Harry, natural resource director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “It’s not a lack of planning, but rather a lack of funding.”

There is some disagreement over where the money should go. Some farmers called for equitable distribution of the money across the states, while environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation urged spending it where pollution is the worst.

The Farm Bill calls for the federal agency to give preference to the river watersheds where most pollution enters the Chesapeake - the Potomac, Patuxent, Susquehanna and Shenandoah rivers.

Federal officials, who have not announced when they’ll decide how the money will be spent, said just because the bill has passed doesn’t mean that every dollar designated for Chesapeake restoration will be spent. Arlen Lancaster, chief of the agency’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, said that only about 80 percent of the 2002 Farm Bill money was later authorized and spent by Congress.

Mr. Lancaster assured farmers that helping them clean up the Chesapeake is a top priority for federal authorities.

“None of us are new to working for conservation here,” he said.

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