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Panel backs 'right-to-farm' proposal


The outline of a county "right-to-farm" ordinance received the approval of Carroll County's Agricultural Commission yesterday.

Monday, the outline will go to the county commissioners for their approval, but they cannot create and pass a right-to-farm law until they receive permission from the state legislature.

Right-to-farm legislation, already adopted by Howard County, protects farmers using accepted agricultural practices from nuisance suits and complaints by neighbors unfamiliar with farming. It does not protect those who violate sediment control, animal safety or other health laws.

"In reality, these things are a nuisance," said Agricultural Commission member Jim Steele, referring to the flies, noise and dust that may be generated on a farm. "[But] this legislation says that agriculture is a preferred [land] use, that these things are within the industry standard and the farmers are trying to do the right thing.

"This is something the neighbors should expect."

TC On Monday, the commissioners are expected to direct the county attorney's office to draft enabling legislation for the county's delegation to take to the General Assembly next session.

"We had to bypass the [agricultural] commission and go to the commissioners because of timing," said Mr. Steele, explaining why the county commissioners tentatively approved the proposal last month.

The commissioners wanted to present the right-to-farm legislation to the county delegation in a packet of proposed bills they discussed on Nov. 18, Mr. Steele said. If they had waited, the enabling legislation could not have been introduced until the 1995 General Assembly session, he said.

Members of the Agricultural Commission's right-to-farm legislation subcommittee said the law should have a definition of agriculture that includes all types of farming and practices necessary to bring products to sale.

The subcommittee, which drafted the proposal, included members of the Agricultural Commission, the Carroll County Farm Bureau, the Carroll County Pomona Grange and the Carroll County Health Department.

"Basically, that's everything, from bees to cut flowers, it's all in the definition as long as it's tied to best practices," said Mr. Steele, manager of Shamrock Farms, a horse-breeding operation Woodbine. "If they're doing something that's illegal or wrong, they're not in favor with us."

Legislation should also include limitations on which agricultural operations can be deemed a nuisance and give health officers the discretion not to investigate if they receive fewer than two complaints about a specific incident, members said.

"Now it's mandatory that the health official go out on every complaint," Mr. Steele said. "If two or more people complain, that should be looked at. But, sometimes, it might be a disgruntled neighbor.

Subcommittee members said they would like the legislation to create a grievance committee made up of extension agents, soil conservation officers and other experts to hear citizen complaints.

Also, as in the Howard County law, they would like to allow judges to require plaintiffs to pay a farmer's legal fees if a lawsuit is deemed frivolous or in bad faith. Currently, in such situations, a farmer would need to file a subsequent suit to recoup his legal expenses.

The legislation should also require a disclosure statement be given to home buyers, similar to those distributed in mining areas, notifying them that they are moving into an agricultural area, members said.

Copies of the law outline were sent to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Carroll County Agricultural Preservation Board, the Board of Supervisors for Carroll County's Soil Conservation District, directors of the Carroll County Farm Bureau, Carroll County Pomona Grange and the Carroll County Economic Development Commission.

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