ANNAPOLIS — With more suburbanites buying homes adjacent to agricultural land, farmers need more protection against nuisance suits from neighbors, farming advocates told a Senate committee Thursday.
Currently, farmers are protected from suits brought by neighbors upset about noisy irrigation pipes, manure smells and lime dust settling on their cars.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is pushing legislation to expand the “Right to Farm” law to cover not only cultivating crops or raising animals but any activity necessary for the farm to profit.
“A farm operation involves more than just producing a commodity,” said Lewis R. Riley, secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, testifying before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The bill would extend the protection against nuisance suits to include processing, transporting and selling farm products on site. It expands the list of industries cited in the “Right to Farm” law to include forestry and aquaculture, in which farmers raise fish or oysters in contained pools or tanks.
The bill would also eliminate a provision in the current law that protects only farming operations that have been up and running for more than a year.
“You may have a farmer that’s been in the dairy business for ten years, and because of the economics of the dairy industry, he may change to poultry or grain or vegetables. We want to make sure he’s protected,” Riley said.
Advocates of the farming industry told the committee that expanding the law was a top priority among farmers, who occasionally give up after protracted battles with their suburban cousins.
“Farmers are now looked at as someone not welcome in their own community,” said Jerry Truitt, director of public affairs for Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., a trade organization representing chicken producers on the Eastern Shore.
“We feel this bill gives them the right to continue to operate and not be constantly harassed to justify their right to farm,” he added.
The bill also has support from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, with a few reservations, said George Maurer, a land use planner for the environmental organization.
Maurer said the future of Maryland agriculture and the Chesapeake Bay were “clearly intertwined” since both suffer negative consequences from suburban sprawl and development. But he asked the committee to exclude two groups from the bill — farmers who process products they do not grow themselves and operations large enough to require a permit from the Maryland Department of Environment. -30-