The often-delicate subject of the impact farmland runoff has on the Chesapeake Bay will be front and center at a summit this week on the Eastern Shore.
The Waterkeeper Alliance, the sponsor of the event, points to agricultural runoff, most of which comes from poultry litter from Eastern Shore operations, as the primary source of pollution in the bay.
Organizers say the event is aimed at highlighting efforts by the poultry industry to curb nutrient runoff, alternate uses for poultry litter, and legal, legislative and regulatory methods for reducing the amount of nutrients escaping from poultry litter into bay tributaries.
Maryland farmers say they are ready to make their case at the event about the agriculture industry's conscientious stewardship of the environment.
Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., will represent chicken farmers and the poultry-processing companies. He plans to use his time at the podium to "point out the facts" that the industry plays a small role in bay pollution.
Poultry operations are more closely regulated than most other farmers in the bay watershed, he said.
"There are tens of thousands of farms in Pennsylvania that do not have state-required nutrient-management plans," Satterfield said.
He said that all commercial chicken farms in Maryland have state-required nutrient-management plans and are subject to inspection.
The keynote speaker for the event will be Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman of Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group that specializes in the protection and restoration of waterways.
Kennedy is planning to speak on nutrient pollution and the health of the bay.
"He will focus on the big picture of the environmental impact of farming and agriculture," said Jillian Gladstone, a spokeswoman for Waterkeeper Alliance.
The organization has filed lawsuits against poultry and hog farm operations in other parts of the country for alleged pollution.
"If you are into chicken manure, this will be the place to be," said Tom Horton, a former environmental columnist for The Sun who will give the opening remarks at the all-day meeting. "There are a lot of big names on the program, and it promises to be a lively session."
Horton has written seven books about the Chesapeake Bay and spent more than 30 years writing about the bay and the environment. He grew up on the Eastern Shore, where his father was the manager of a poultry-processing plant and his parents raised chickens.
Other speakers on the program include:
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who has put the environment and the health of the bay among his priorities. One of his first acts on taking office was to appoint Erin Fitzsimmons, who was the Chesapeake regional director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, as special assistant for the environment.
Tom Jones, the provost of Salisbury University, where he served for 30 years as a faculty member in the department of biological sciences, chairman of the department and dean of the Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology.
Tom Simpson, a professor at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who will focus on water quality in the bay and its tributaries, and on soil management.
Robert Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins University.
Carole Morison, a chicken grower under contract with Perdue Farms Inc.
Jane Barrett, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law.
Gerald W. Winegrad, a former state senator with more than 37 years of experience in environmental policy, as an environmental attorney and advocate for the environment during his 16 years in the General Assembly.
The Eastern Shore Poultry Summit is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury. The $25 fee includes lunch. Information or to register: www.waterkeeper.org/poultrysummit.aspx.