Baltimore County is the first jurisdiction in the state to restrict when farmers can use air cannons. The County Council last night voted unanimously to make it illegal to use the noise makers from 10 p.m. to sunrise.
The air cannons run on propane and can be set on a timer to go off every couple of minutes. They sound like a shotgun blast.
Farmers say they are a non-lethal way to scare away pests, like blackbirds, that can pick them clean of their crops.
But this issue touched off a debate in Baltimore County about balancing farmers’ rights to farm with their neighbors’ right to a good night’s sleep.
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins proposed the legislation, because some people were complaining a farmer in Middle River had his air cannons firing at night, at times just a stone’s throw from their homes. Bevins said under the legislation the farmer will first get a warning.
“Then if he continues to do it will go to a citation so he can receive a fine and have to tell it to a judge,” Bevins said.
Besides the 10 p.m. to sunrise restriction, the air cannons have to be at least 500 feet from a nearby home. Bevins had arranged for the farmer and the neighbors to try to mediate their differences, but she said the talks broke down so she pressed forward with the legislation.
In a compromise with Councilman Wade Kach, the legislation will expire after two years. Kach represents the northern, most rural part of Baltimore County. Kach said farmers are concerned about the restriction. Under state law, farmers are protected from complaints about how they farm. But Kach added he gets the neighbors’ beef about the cannons.
“Some of these cannon, the noise level is 125 decibels,” Kach said. “That can cause physical damage.”
Bevins said they don’t want to punish all farmers. She said they’ll take another look at it in two years to see if the legislation needs to stay on the books. When told about that, the Middle River farmer, Donald Eurice, who is 84, said maybe they’re counting on him being gone by then and he won’t need the air cannons anymore.