Lee McDaniel's family has been farming an 860-acre spread along the banks of scenic Deer Creek since 1959. But he's worried that strict federal regulations and a tiny weevil could put him out of business.
For years, McDaniel has used pesticides to protect the alfalfa crophe grows to feed the 600 head of cattle at his Darlington farm from the weevil, a beetle.
But McDaniel is concerned that new federal Environmental Protection Agency pesticide regulations -- now only voluntary -- will wipe out much of his farming operation if they become mandatory.
The regulations call for farmers to stop using about 40 pesticides and herbicides along the eastern half of Deer Creek and some of its tributariesto protect the Maryland darter, a 3-inch fish on the national list of endangered species.
The EPA says in a pamphlet on the ban that it is making the effort to protect the darter as part of its Endangered Species Protection Program. The program was established to "protectand promote recovery of animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct due to the activities of people."
John Bergquist, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said the EPA is expected to make the regulations mandatory soon, although he did not say when that will happen.
Bergquist said he wants farmers to comment on the regulations, but said he hasn't heard from many yet.
He will be hearing from McDaniel.
"(The ban) will have a major impact on us," the 42-year-old McDaniel said. "We realize it's a sensitive area. . . . But it may come that we'll regulate our farm industry out of business."
McDaniel estimates that the regulations will preventhim from using pesticides and herbicides on nearly 75 percent of hisland, named Indian Spring Farm.
The EPA and the state agriculturedepartment issued the voluntary regulations last September, advisingfarmers not to use the herbicides and pesticides.
One of the pesticides on the list is Sevin, commonly used by homeowners on gardens.
The regulations cover farms up to a quarter-mile from Deer Creek, between U.S. 1 and the Susquehanna River, and two of the creek's tributaries -- Elbow Creek and Buck Branch. The regulations also cover the area along Gasheys Creek, which feeds Swan Creek near Havre de Grace.
The decision to issue the voluntary restrictions was recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure pesticides and herbicides don't harm the darter, Bergquist said.
Deer Creek is home to the darter, a member of the perch family and found only in Maryland. It has not been seen for nearly three years, despite a recent state-funded search.
Donald Hoopes, president of the Harford Farm Bureau, questioned the need to ban pesticides when government officialsdon't even know if the Maryland darter still exists.
Hoopes addedthat it has not been determined whether pesticides are even getting into Deer Creek.
"The EPA is using the shotgun approach," he said."They're assuming these pesticides are getting into the water."
Hoopes, whose Forest Hill farm is not affected by the voluntary ban, said county farmers have already reduced the amount of pesticides theyuse.
In the past, farmers sprayed crops with pesticides about every 10 days, regardless of whether there was a problem, Hoopes said. Now, farmers use the chemicals only when certain crops are attacked bypests or disease.
McDaniel said he uses about 100 gallons of pesticides a year on his 860-acre farm.
Hoopes said farmers will have few choices but to go out of business and put their land on the market if the ban is mandatory.
"(The farmers) could grow grass or growhouses," Hoopes said. "And we know there's no money in growing grass. What's the farmer's alternative?"
Even if farmers keep their land in agriculture and stop using pesticides, they would create other environmental risks, McDaniel contends.
As an example, McDaniel said he could replant his alfalfa crop if it's wiped out by weevils, butconstant replanting would increase the amount of sediment going intoDeer Creek and damage aquatic life.
McDaniel said he believes regulators have issued the ban without seeing its far-reaching effects. He noted that the ban would prohibit the state from spraying trees atSusquehanna and Palmer state parks to protect them from gypsy moths.The Deer Creek flows through both parks.
Meanwhile, state law requires farmers to kill what are known as "noxious" weeds, such as thistles and Johnson grass, McDaniel said. The only way he said he can dothat is by using herbicides.
"One way or another, it looks like I'm going to be in violation," he said. "I guess my choice is between state prison or federal prison. That's an extreme, but you get my drift."