ANNAPOLIS – In Calvert County, where station wagons and two- car garages are increasingly replacing tractors and silos, interaction between neighbors is not always cordial.
Calvert is the state’s second-fastest growing county, and as development increases, homes are springing up and surrounding existing farms. Tractor noise before 6 a.m., dust, animal smells and crop spraying are among issues residents complain about. Farmers argue that these sources of inconvenience are a necessary part of farming.
A bill heard Thursday by the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee would give the Calvert County Commissioners authority to protect farmers from legal action over such nuisance complaints.
The bill is sponsored by the Calvert County Delegation and was on the county commission’s wish-list to lawmakers for the session.
Michael Shipp, president of the county farm bureau, said the measure has the unanimous support of the five-member commission and the county’s legislative delegation.
Del. George Owings, D-Calvert, said the bill would be a message to residents that they “shouldn’t expect to be able to shut down the farms.”
Agricultural land in Calvert County declined by 10 percent from 1987-1992, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce agricultural census.
The bill would help prevent court action over land use by requiring individuals to take complaints first to a county grievance committee. If the committee decided in favor of the farmer, the claimant would be responsible for costs, including lawyer fees.
“We seem to be getting more and more neighbors, and most of them are good neighbors,” Allen Swann, a Calvert County farmer said. “Every neighborhood has its problems though.”
People unaccustomed to farming may not be aware of the noise and odor that go along with rural living, Swann said. While he knew of no legal action over such complaints, he agreed that farmers should have protection from lawsuits.
“When you’re doing things right and safe, sometimes you still get complaints,” Swann said. He regularly hears from a neighbor whenever he sprays his crops, even though he tries to spray only when the wind is minimal, he said.
“Most of our neighbors would still prefer to have a farm next door than a subdivision,” Swann said. No one testified against the bill. -30-