- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

ANNAPOLIS When Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was elected last month to become Maryland's first Republican governor in decades, farmers breathed a "collective sigh of relief," a Maryland Farm Bureau official said.
Among the most unpopular decisions by outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening was to limit development around the Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters. He also made farmers devise nutrient-management plans to prevent fertilizer from seeping into watersheds, said Valerie Connelly, the bureau's director of governmental relations. Furthermore, criticisms about the policies seemed to fall on deaf ears.
"The farm community is just relieved to have an opportunity to participate in the discussions in Annapolis over the next four years," Miss Connelly said. "They felt shut out for the last eight years."
Partly as a backlash against Mr. Glendening, Mr. Ehrlich soundly defeated his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in counties with heavy agriculture. In Carroll County, the margin was almost 4-to-1.
State Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican from the lower Eastern Shore who owns a cabbage farm, said farmers are looking forward to a more cooperative relationship with this administration.
"I think they've been in a defensive mode for a while, so they just don't want to see themselves damaged further," he said.
With Mr. Ehrlich in office, farmers are hoping alterations can be made to simplify the nutrient-management program, which was intended to curb runoff of pollutants entering the Bay by such steps as leaving vegetative buffers along waterways.
"We're not looking to change any of the water-quality benefits of the program, but we think the regulatory process that's been put in place as a result of this law is very burdensome to farmers and those that are planning for farmers," Miss Connelly said.
The state has not fully funded the cost-share program designed to reduce the cost of paying private consultants to write plans for complying, she said. Meanwhile, there are not enough public consultants, who provide plans free of charge, she said, and the waiting list to determine if a farm is in compliance is too long.
Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said the incoming governor agrees that nutrient-management program must be improved. Mr. Ehrlich plans to hold a summit with farmers in the coming year to discuss changes.
Miss Connelly said another priority for farmers when the General Assembly meets next month is coming up with plans to make farming a more consistently viable way of life. This is especially pressing coming off a devastating drought.
Farmers who had a successful corn harvest this summer are having no trouble selling crops because the state's supplies are running at a deficit. But Miss Connelly said farmers need more opportunities for value-added production. One idea is to pave the way for producing ethanol from barley, and building an infrastructure for selling it at Maryland gas pumps.
Miss Connelly also said programs for preserving agricultural land by buying development rights to farms have been "woefully underfunded for years." Such programs as the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and Rural Legacy help farmers withstand the temptation to sell their land to encroaching developers.
With a projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall, she said, "We're not under any illusion that we'll have any increases this year," although she said farmers would like to see enough funding to keep them running.
Mr. Fawell said Mr. Ehrlich is a strong supporter of such policies, but "no program is off-limits when it comes to fixing the state's budget."

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