By Sen. Roy Dyson

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]

I was more than pleased to hear that my old friend Bud Virts of Mechanicsville has been chosen as the new Maryland Secretary of Agriculture, effective January 1. He is replacing Lewis Riley who announced his resignation, so he could return to his Eastern Shore farm. Riley has been a very capable secretary. His shoes are being filled by a likewise very capable man.

The governor is to be applauded for his choice of Dr. Virts, a long-time Southern Maryland veterinarian, who most recently has been Secretary Riley's right hand man. Virts lives on and works the farm of his late step-father, Senator Paul Bailey. Not since Y. D. Hance of Calvert County was the first state agriculture secretary and John Thomas Cecil, a St. Mary's County native, was his deputy have we had a local person in such a key position in that important state agency.

Now more than ever local farmers need a friend at the state level. I recently attended the Calvert County Farm Bureau banquet and will be attending the St. Mary's County Farm Bureau legislative dinner on December 1. Farmers I talk to have one thing on their mind: the recent report of the Blue Ribbon Citizens Pfiesteria Action Commission. They feel that report points too heavy a blame on them for the Pfiesteria outbreak on the Eastern Shore. They feel we may be stomping a fly with an elephant's foot.

There is no one more concerned about the future of the Chesapeake Bay than I am. When I was in Congress I led the effort to significantly increase federal funding for Chesapeake Bay research. The jury, though, is still out on the real cause of the Pfiesteria outbreak on the Eastern Shore. The finger is pointed at the poultry industry. If that proves to be true then steps should be taken to correct the runoff problem from that industry. They seem committed to being a willing partner with the state in fixing the problem.

The Pfiesteria plan as presented by the commission to the governor has been called voluntary. Yet the report says: "The Commission recommends that the State enroll all farmers by the year 2000. These nutrient management plans should be fully and demonstrably implemented by 2002, contingent upon the State supplying appropriate levels of education, outreach, technical support and financial resources necessary to meet these goals." Those last modifiers are big ifs, but that recommendation still doesn't sound all that voluntary to me.

Is it really necessary to involve every farmer in the state in a potentially time consuming and expensive process for a solution to a problem they might not be contributing to? Granted the burden of removing phosphorus will fall heaviest on the chicken industry. But if someone isn't contributing to the problem, why should they be forced to become part of the solution.

I hope this issue doesn't pit farmers and watermen against each other. They should work together to come up with a viable solution. This issue will surely be played on the battlefield of the 1998 Maryland General Assembly. I urge the Maryland Farm Bureau and Maryland Watermen's Association, and their local affiliates, to work together to forge a compromise which achieves the result of preventing as much as possible these Pfiesteria episodes while at the same time preventing the hysterical reactions of unnecessarily burdensome regulations.

While I am on the subject of agriculture, Secretary Riley recently wrote me about a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate (SB 1310) which would provide extra financial assistance to tobacco farmers in federal support programs. Secretary Riley asked for my input. Since Southern Maryland tobacco isn't federally supported, it would be good if we could find a way to get the bill modified so that some of that aid comes our way.

Since Congress is now adjourned until January there is some time to work on this. If you have any comments that you would like me to pass on to Secretary Riley, or his successor, Secretary Virts, please do so in writing to my district office, P.O. Box 229, Great Mills, MD 20634.

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]