It also misses the fact that sound planning to protect rural agricultural areas and grow where we have existing services will allow more economic development with less pollution. This sets the stage for poor policy decision-making.
A better idea
American Farmland Trust recently developed a more balanced approach to calculating farm nutrient loads. "We included all storm and waste water from new houses and commercial development accompanying them," he explains.
"We assumed a similar level of conservation by farmers and developers. This analysis for agricultural and developed land in Baltimore County and the state of Maryland found that farms had a 20% lower nitrogen impact on the Chesapeake Bay."
A second analysis by the Maryland Department of Planning showed that when pollution emitted per person (rather than per acre) is examined, location matters. Five new residents moving to rural green fields will produce 100 pounds of nitrogen per year.
For that same amount of nitrogen, you can have 35 new residents if there are existing wastewater and other services. Under the new regulations with hard caps on nutrients, this finding could greatly influence where communities choose to locate new developments.
In Maryland (at least), farmland, on average, sends less pollution to the Bay than development. That dispels the myth that converting farms to "green development" is a pollution solution.
When the region's 17 million residents take on the task of "fixing" an estuary, it makes a big difference where the next million set up house. Those aware of this issue are far too few, maintains Baird.
"Everyone involved in agriculture – including those who value farms for food, recreation, pumpkin patches and petting farms – needs to help recast farms as essential to sustaining Bay ecosystems. Then policy makers will start appreciating and supporting the key role that farms and farmland play in keeping our waterways clean."
Baird can be reached at email@example.com .