The July 18 front-page story "Bay Pollution Progress Overstated" painted a chilling picture of the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, it did not hold accountable a sizable number of individuals who contribute to the bay's algae bloom.

Home gardeners who never have their soil tested and who indiscriminately use synthetic, high-nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers cause considerable damage to the ecosystems that affect the bay area. Although most gardeners do not have acreage comparable to that of farmers, they nevertheless dump fertilizer on their gardens in greater proportion.

The Environmental Protection Agency, with backing from the appropriate branches of the federal government, should ban synthetic high-phosphorus, high-nitrogen fertilizers for lawns and gardens. That will prove difficult, because the companies producing these products convince gardeners that they will never have lovely lawns or flower beds without these toxic chemicals. Yet ecologically sound and equally effective alternatives are available to home gardeners and landscaping companies.

VICTORIA L. PRICE

Silver Spring

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We can address the pollution problems generated by agriculture's use of manure as fertilizer in Maryland [Metro, July 29] through a simple, relatively inexpensive solution: cereal grain cover crops. During the past two decades scientists from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have proved the ability of cover crops to trap large amounts of nitrogen for about $1 per pound -- one of the cheapest pollution-prevention techniques around.

This spring Maryland took a big step toward making cover crops an effective and available tool when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed the "flush tax," which should generate $5 million to pay for cover crops starting next year. In the next few years, we need to triple the program's funding. Just $15 million annually would support cover-crop plantings on 600,000 acres, retaining 15 million pounds of nitrogen a year that might otherwise reach the bay. Taking this action would solidify cover crops' status as an essential nutrient-retention tool that protects the bay and helps ensure the economic viability of Maryland's farms.

RUSSELL B. BRINSFIELD

Executive Director

Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology Inc.

Queenstown, Md.

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To improve the Chesapeake Bay's health, farmers must adopt conservation practices that result in cleaner water. Runoff from agriculture is a significant source of pollution. However, our waterways, including the bay, would be worse off if the region's farms were replaced by housing, roads and shopping malls. Well-managed farmland actually can clean our water.

A 2001 study by American Farmland Trust found that 75 percent of Americans think farmers receiving federal aid should be required to apply conservation practices to the land. Federal conservation initiatives such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program need to be fully funded. We also need new tools, such as the risk management insurance recently approved in Pennsylvania, which protects farmers against loss when adopting conservation practices.

In the long run, "green payments" and other programs that provide public funding for conservation benefits produced on private lands must become the centerpiece of U.S. farm policy. If farmers, environmentalists and the public work together, we can clean up the bay while maintaining our local agriculture.

RALPH GROSSI

President

American Farmland Trust

Washington