CHARLES TOWN — One of the groups most seriously impacted by the Chesapeake Bay Initiative is the farming community.
Warren Mickey, a supervisor of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, argues that the EPA has not sufficiently demonstrated the real impact agriculture is having.
“They’re ready to retire. They’re ready to sell off their farms into subdivisions,” Mickey said.
“We’re catching all this grief about polluting the Chesapeake Bay, and I’m sure we have contributed – less now than we ever have because we have cleaned up a lot,” Mickey said. “They admit it’s just a guess-timate as far as how much pollution we are putting out there. Farmers all along said, ‘we are not doing that much.’”
Mickey said area farmers have long been making efforts to improve the environmental impact of their farms. These include fencing off streams to keep cattle from polluting them, installing riparian buffers to help filter water before it enters streams and using nutrient management plans to help reduce over-fertilization.
Mickey said nutrient management plans offer one of the most effective solutions to the problem.
“Every farm is supposed to get one of these,” Mickey said. “If I want to put fertilizer on any one of my fields, then I go to an expert and he can tell me how much of the different kinds of fertilizer to put on.”
But, Mickey points out, this program is not receiving the support it ought to, and has therefore not yet been highly effective.
“There are only two people in the whole district that have the certification to do this. Now how many farms are there in Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Jefferson counties? If they did one a week, or two a week or five a week, do you realize how many years it would take to do all the farms?” Mickey said. “They don’t have enough personnel, and instead of increasing the number of personnel to do this type of work, they’re reducing them. We just closed five offices of the Farm Services Agency in West Virginia.”
Mickey argues that the main option the EPA has been pushing – so-called ‘Nutrient Trading’ programs – are not effective. Under this program, farmers are given points for adding environmental protections on their farms. They can then sell these points to ‘point sources’ of pollution like sewage treatment plants. Point sources can use these points to compensate if they discharge more-than-allowed amounts of pollution.
“I would sell my quality points for the environmental work that I have done on my farm to clean up (a stream) to a municipality so that they wouldn’t have to build a new sewage treatment plant, and they can continue to pollute the Potomac,” Mickey said. “You don’t have to go past kindergarten to figure this out. Are we really cleaning the water up? No.”
“The farmer will make a few hundred dollars off this deal. The treatment plant will save tens of millions, yet they are the ones who are allowed to continue polluting,” Mickey said. “I think its completely hypocritical.”