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State Fertilizer Rules Moving ahead over Objections

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State officials are plowing ahead with new rules on how and when farmers can fertilize their fields, despite last-minute objections from environmentalists that the proposed limits have been weakened in an apparent bid to mollify agricultural interests.

The state Department of Agriculture plans to publish proposed changes to its "nutrient management" regulations on Dec. 2 in the Maryland Register, spokeswoman Julianne Oberg said in an email.

State officials have said the new rules, which deal with the spreading of animal manure and sewage sludge on farm fields, are intended to reduce polluted runoff from farms as part of Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Among the proposed changes are a ban on putting down any fertilizer in winter and tighter limits in the fall, requiring farmers to store their animals' waste until spring or find other uses for it.

The changes were generally welcomed by environmental groups when first announced three weeks ago. Some activists, notably former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad of Annapolis, thought they were still far too weak, but others saw them as a good first step toward tackling agricultural pollution.