About 6,000 farmers in Maryland will be getting a letter from the Maryland Department of Agriculture this week. And it is not fan mail. The letter is a written warning that they need to comply with laws that limit nutrient runoff into Chesapeake Bay or be fined.

Producers have until July 31 to submit a written plan of action to correct the problem, request a delay or explain why they should be exempt from the law. Failure to do so will result in a $250 fine.

The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 requires all area producers to write a nutrient management plan. The original deadline was Dec 31, 2001. Then producers were given a grace period to see if the General Assembly was going to make changes to the law. None were made.

So far, only 5,800 of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 farmers in the state have submitted nutrient management plans as required by law. Those 5,800 plans do however, represent about 70 percent of the state’s farmland. The deadline for plan implementation is Jan. 1, 2003. After that, violators can be fined up to $2,000 a year.

If farmers fail to comply, their case can be turned over to the state Department of Energy. They can impose fines up to $10,000 per day.

The water quality law applies to all agricultural operations with gross revenues of $2,500 or more annually, or that raise 8,000 pounds or more of live animal weight each year.

The Baltimore Sun