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December 23, 2017

A Look Back at Maryland Agriculture in 2017

By Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the December 23, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming.

When I was sworn-in as Secretary of Agriculture, I laid out three main goals to continue the growth of our industry and support our rural communities: diversify and expand agricultural businesses; serve as a resource to the agricultural community; and work directly with elected officials and legislators to promote the importance of agriculture. As 2017 comes to a close, this column will focus on some of the things we are doing at the department to help achieve these goals.

Diversify and expand agricultural businesses

The main driver behind our success in this area is our Maryland’s Best marketing program. We maintain a website at MarylandsBest.net that helps connect consumers with local producers across the state. The program also buys advertising and sponsors/hosts events to raise awareness of local goods.

A great example of this is the Maryland’s Best Buyer-Grower Expo – an annual event where growers and producers have the opportunity to showcase their products for buyers from grocery retailers, restaurants, schools, food distributors and other venues. In 2017, we had more than 60 farms participating with more than 300 buyers in attendance. The next expo will be held on January 24 and if you’re a grower or a buyer, we encourage you to attend.

Now in its 5th year, the Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail has become one of our most popular promotions. The trail includes nine on-farm creameries from Washington County to Ocean City. This year, we kicked off the season with events at Rocky Point Creamery and Woodbourne Creamery.

This year marked the 10th annual Governor’s Buy Local Cookout. We had 19 dishes prepared by teams of local chefs and producers, and wide range of local craft beverages. This event launches Buy Local Challenge Week, which challenges all Marylanders to include at least one local grown product in each meal.

In September, I visited Crellin Elementary School in Oakland (Garrett County) to celebrate Homegrown School Lunch Week. This great program not only helps farmers open new markets, but provides our kids with fresher, more nutritious options in the cafeteria. While I was at Crellin, I toured their on-site Sunshine Farm operation. It was great to see these young kids with so much knowledge and experience, and it really reinforces the importance of ag education.

Serving as a resource to the agricultural community

When Governor Hogan took office, he declared that the war on rural Maryland was over. We have been working with farmers to make sure they know that we appreciate their hard work and dedication. For the first time since 2007, the Governor hosted a Century Farm ceremony recognizing 34 families, including one Tri-centennial and two Bicentennial farms. Governor Hogan is continuing that tradition with a ceremony to honor the newest Century Farm families in January. I also had the pleasure of joining Governor Hogan as he inducted the Millburn family of Millburn Orchards farm family as the 48th members of the Governor’s Agriculture Hall of Fame.

An important part of my job as Secretary is being a resource to all farmers. I’ve learned something new about farming every day since I took this position, and the Maryland Agricultural Commission has been a big part of that. Back in the spring, we toured a variety of operation in Dorchester and Wicomico County including: J.M. Clayton Seafood Company (Cambridge), Double Trouble Farm (Rhodesdale), Marshall’s Riverbank Nurseries (Salisbury), and Wright’s Market (Mardela Springs). In the fall, we visited a handful of operations in Allegany & Garrett Counties: Working H Meats and Market (Friendsville), High Country Creamery & Market (Grantsville) and Walnut Ridge Farm (Flintstone). There’s no better way to learn about different operations than to get on out there and see them for yourself.

Keeping with the theme of education, it has been a priority of mine to promote agriculture education in schools—especially in areas that are often overlooked. Last year, I visited Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore for a ribbon cutting ceremony for their new hoophouses. This year, we returned to the school on National Ag Day with Lt. Governor Rutherford and Mayor Pugh to help the students plant flowers so each of them could take home for Mother’s Day.

To help promote MAEF’s Ag Literacy Campaign, I visited the third class at Beltsville Academy to read this year’s official book, Hatching Chicks in Room 6. There, I was joined by Director the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy.

Work directly with elected officials and legislators

The biggest hurdle facing us as farmers is the risk of harmful, restrictive legislation from our General Assembly. In an effort to prevent this, I have been engaging our legislators and promoting the importance of agriculture by showing them the real effects of bills that are passed in Annapolis. We continued our legislative tours this year, taking lawmakers to farm operations in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. This is our third year doing these tours, and I’ve found that it has helped legislators gain a better grasp of the issues facing Maryland agriculture.

Another thing we have found helpful is inviting legislators to visit our lab wing at the department’s headquarters. Our department regulates a variety of areas that most people may not realize – mosquito control, weights and measures, pesticide regulation, state chemist, and more. These tours help us emphasize the importance of work, especially as it relates to serving our agriculture industry.

In closing, I just want to highlight at couple of big events on the horizon. You should be receiving a survey for the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture. I cannot stress how important it is for all of us to participate in this survey—this is the most complete set of agricultural data available and is used as a baseline for decisions by lawmakers, businesses, financial institutions, etc. The other thing I want to emphasize is how important it is for all farmers to be active during the upcoming legislative session. It’s important for lawmakers to hear directly from you.

It’s an honor for me to serve as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture. I wish you all the best this holiday season and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!


November 25, 2017

Looking Forward and Giving Thanks for Maryland Farmers

By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the November 25, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming

With the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to take a moment to recognize our Maryland farmers. Not only do you work year-round to provide a safe, nutritious supply of food, but your continued commitment to protecting our waterways and the Chesapeake Bay is second to none.

In FY 2017, the state exceeded its Watershed Implementation Program (WIP) assessment goals for phosphorus and sediment reduction, and continued to close the gap on our nitrogen goals. This is due in large part to our farmers’ voluntary use of Best Management Practices (BMPs), and the implementation of Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) in 2015.

As a farmer, I know firsthand that this has not always been an easy transition; but, as your Secretary of Agriculture, it gives me great pride to see Maryland’s sense of commitment and innovation held up as the blueprint for other states’ efforts in resource conservation.

On behalf of the Hogan/Rutherford Administration, I can assure you that your efforts have not gone unnoticed, and we will continue to fight on your behalf here in Annapolis. In Maryland, we are fortunate to have Governor Larry Hogan who is dedicated and determined to serve agriculture and who understands that farmers were the original environmentalists and stewards of the land, and we will continue to be. Governor Hogan also recognizes that Maryland’s family farms are businesses that are a major contributor to the vitality and economy of our state.

New Season of Maryland Farm & Harvest Released

Maryland Public Television’s (MPT) popular original series Maryland Farm & Harvest, returned for its fifth season earlier this month. Each week, Maryland Farm & Harvest takes viewers on a journey across the state, telling stories about the farms, people, and technology required to sustain and grow Maryland’s number one industry: agriculture. Over the past year, MPT’s production team has filmed stories at more than four dozen farms for this season.  Maryland’s rich agricultural heritage, the importance of bees, and growing crops in the face of changing weather patterns are among themes covered in depth during upcoming episodes.

 

We are very pleased that this is MPT’s highest rated, locally produced show – with nearly 5 million viewers since the series first aired (not including on demand or online views). The series has visited more than 200 farms in its first four seasons, covering every Maryland county, as well as Baltimore City and Washington, D.C. A new episode premieres every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on MPT. You can watch all of the episodes on the show’s website: www.mpt.org/farm

2017 Census of Agriculture

In just a few weeks, farmers across the country will have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their communities and industry by taking part in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. I cannot stress how important it is for all farmers to stand up and be counted. Your answers to the census have a far-reach impact on farm programs and rural services that support your community. The census is conducted every five years and compiles the most complete set of data on the agriculture industry, which is used to make decisions on policy, agribusiness and financial issues.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will mail surveys at the end of this year. NASS has also extensively revised the online census questionnaire at www.agcounts.usda.gov to make it more convenient for producers. Farmers can either mail in their completed census form or take advantage of new time-saving features by responding online.

FSMA Produce Grower Trainings – November 27, 30

The University of Maryland, University of Maryland Extension, and Maryland Department of Agriculture will host two Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings this fall. The first is scheduled for Monday, November 27 at the Cecil County Extension office in Elkton, and the second is scheduled for Thursday, November 30 at the Charles Soil Conservation District Office in Waldorf. These trainings are critically important for any operation that will be effected by the new FSMA rules going into effect. More information and registration forms are available on the department’s website.

Farms are critical to Maryland’s economy and priceless rural heritage. As a department, we are continuing efforts to:

  • Help farmers to diversify their businesses and to capitalize on expanding marketing opportunities arising from the growing consumer demand for local agricultural products and desire to better understand where their food comes from;
  • Serve as a resource to the agricultural community; and
  • Work with elected officials, policy makers and the general public to ensure they know about the importance of Maryland agriculture to our quality of life and the overall economy.

As always, we invite your feedback on how we may improve our services to you, the agriculture community. I am grateful for the hard work and dedicated efforts of our farmers who work each day to provide food and fiber for us all.  I wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season.


October 28, 2017

The Importance of Bringing State and County Lawmakers to the Farm

Published in the October 28, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming.

By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

Since being appointed by Governor Hogan as the Secretary of Agriculture, I have made it a priority to advocate and educate our policy makers about the wide range of issues our farmers encounter on their farming operations. With the 2018 General Assembly right around the corner, we held our third round of legislative farm tours before the 2,000 or more bills are introduced in Annapolis. I want to ensure that when bills affecting farmers and the agricultural sector are introduced, our lawmakers understand their impact. I want them to see firsthand the effects that current regulations are having on farming operations.

This year, we partnered with Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s county governments to highlight the diverse agriculture operations in each county and invited local and state officials to join us. The focus of the tours was on how Maryland farmers continue to place conservation practices and diversify their operations to either keep the farm in production and viable for the next generation. These farm tours offered a great opportunity for dialogue between lawmakers, regulators, farmers and advocates to discuss a number of issues and concerns and how to address problems and find possible solutions.

I’m proud to say that agriculture is still the number one industry in our state. Yet, with each generation, our nation is growing further from its agricultural roots. Many people today – including our elected officials – have never been on a farm, do not know a farmer, or know where their food originates. That is why it is critical to inform our lawmakers on how potential laws or burdening regulations can harm businesses and not allow farms to be viable. Our farmers face many challenges that are out of their hands from the weather and other economic pressures; they need to have assurance that their elected officials understand their livelihood.

During the tours, we visited 10 farms that offered a broad range of size, type, growing methods and means of selling their products. Showcasing the agricultural economy at a county level with a local point of view for our legislators highlights the importance of our farmers. Some key facts we shared on the tours included that 73 percent of the Prince George’s County is zoned for agriculture for a variety of rural and small urban farms. Also, agriculture contributes over $287 million to the Montgomery County economy. And with the newly-passed agritourism bill in Anne Arundel County, businesses like En-Tice-Ment Meats may now sell their products directly on their operation. The facts of our farmers doing more for their community and the environment are too countless to mention, but showcasing them is very important.

I think it is fair to say that everyone who joined the tours not only enjoyed a first-hand look at Maryland farming but also learned more about the difficulties and challenges facing our farmers and the great successes farmers have every day. They understood even more the diversity, the breadth and the critical importance of the agricultural industry to our state’s overall economic health.

My thanks to all the legislators and staff members, as well as local county representatives who spent their valuable time with us. I hope that more lawmakers will be able to join us next time.

And, of course, my deep thanks to the farms who opened their doors to our tours and showed the group how they do business and shared their thoughts about this industry, including: Waters Orchard, Sunny Ridge Farm LLC, Waredaca Brewing and Equestrian Facility, Hopewell Farm, Greenstreet Gardens, En-Tice-Ment Meats, the Vineyards at Dodon, Edgewood Farm, Villa De Alpacas Farm and Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards.

My thanks also to the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO), Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, Maryland Farm Bureau, Maryland Grain Producers, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), University of Maryland Extension, Maryland Soil Conservation Districts, Grow and Fortify, Rural Maryland Council,  Eco-City Farms, Prince George’s Food Equity Council, Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, Honey Harvest Farm, and Skipper’s Pier Restaurant.

To see some photos of the tour, visit the Department’s Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/MdAgDept

 

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September 30, 2017

Maryland Celebrates 10th Annual Homegrown School Lunch Week

Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the September 30, 2017

Fall harvest is well underway in Maryland, and we are wrapping up the peak summer season of produce. Because we continue to see strong consumer demand for local food products, it’s the perfect time to take a moment and recognize the success of Maryland’s Farm to School program and the 10th annual Homegrown School Lunch Week (September 25-29, 2017). This week I had the pleasure of joining students and teachers at Crellin Elementary School in Garrett County to kick off the statewide celebration.

Homegrown School Lunch Week encourages school districts to provide locally grown products in at least one school meal every day for a week and continue year-round. Maryland was the first state in the nation to have every public school system participate in Homegrown School Lunch Week. And this year 60 farmers participated in the program.

The larger Farm to School program was signed into law in 2008 as a new program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Through this program, we work with school districts throughout the year to find ways to bring fresh products from local farmers into school cafeterias. “Farm to School” also strives to provide students with hands-on learning activities such as farm visits, producers visiting schools, school gardening, and culinary classes; and to integrate food-related education into the standards-based classroom curriculum.

Our goal is to see even more local, fresh food in school lunches, not only to improve childhood health but also to help them learn about the importance of our farms to our environment and daily lives. We are excited to see schools increasing their local sourcing of meat, cheese and seafood in their school meals. Homegrown School Lunch week not only provides effective learning activities, it can be an economic opportunity for Maryland farmers and it’s fun for students and other participants.

In Maryland, there are more than 2 million acres in farmland and more than 12,000 farms. More than 70 million lunches and 24 million breakfasts are served in Maryland schools annually. Maryland Farm to School is not the federally funded Childhood Nutrition Programs, but locally sourced Maryland foods can be a part of the Breakfast, School Lunch, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Summer Meals, Maryland Meals for Achievement, etc.

Maryland schools spent $18 million on local food served in schools, according to a recent USDA Farm to School Census. Of those schools that purchase local foods, 96% purchase vegetables, 100% purchase Maryland fruits, 59 % milk and 22% meat or poultry.  Moreover, 52% of those schools indicated an interest in increasing local food purchases in the future.

At the Homegrown School Lunch Week event at Crellin Elementary, I was joined by USDA Food Nutrition Services Mid-Atlantic Regional Office Special Nutrition Programs Director Roberta Hodsdon, Garrett County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Baker, and Principal Dr. Dana McCauley. We spoke with about 150 students about the connection between farms and food to enhance student understanding of where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the benefits of a healthy diet. We encouraged all of them to consider careers in agriculture. Students and teachers from each grade highlighted for us their role at the school, their agricultural studies and how it ties back to the state mandate. The students led guests on a tour of the school’s “Sunshine Farm,” where they experience hands-on work with crops and livestock in their barns, orchard, garden and greenhouse. Students also had the opportunity to explore the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s “Maryland Ag Products” mobile science lab.

After the tour and brief presentations from federal, state and local officials, the invited guests joined students in the school cafeteria to enjoy a lunch that featured local products. The menu included hamburgers from a cow raised by Kane Edwards, 4th grader at Crellin Elementary, purchased at the Garrett County Fair and donated to Crellin by Railey Mountain Vacation Rentals. The Butcher Block in Oakland processed the meat, which was also supplied to other Garrett County schools. Cherry tomatoes from Garrett Growers were also served.

Garrett County Board of Education Food & Nutrition Services Program Manager Scott Germain said “We have worked hard over the past several years to increase our farm to school week from one item to eight items on our menu. Some of those items have found their way onto our menus at other times throughout the year.  It is great to work with the local suppliers. The students really enjoy all of the items.”

Each county is unique in how it offers Homegrown School Lunch. This year, we saw schools offering a wide range of local products, from apples, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon and green beans to local cheeses, meats and even seafood. Many school districts have planned various activities to celebrate 2017 Homegrown School Lunch Week. In Caroline County, Lockerman Middle School students will enjoy local blue catfish donated by Congressional Seafood and oysters donated by Madhouse Oysters, and pork sourced from the school’s agricultural class and had it butchered, and the culinary arts students will prepare pork recipes for the taste testing. In Southern Maryland, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties purchased hamburgers, hot dogs, spicy hot dogs and cheese burgers from Hoffman Meats in Hagerstown.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program was one of 65 projects across 42 states and Puerto Rico to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Grant Program. The $97,662 grant will engage all of Maryland’s 24 school systems to expand the amount of locally-grown foods procured in the Summer Meals program and increase enrichment programming activities. Statewide activities will include a local food market feasibility study of supply chain partners in Summer Meals, Harvest of the Month summer campaign, technical assistance training, a rural culinary school vegetable processing pilot, and agriculture and nutrition-based activities with a focus on farmers markets and on-site gardens.

For more information about Maryland’s Farm to School program, including educational materials, menus, places to find local products, brief video soundbook with photos and interviews, plus much more for parents, teachers, and food service staff, visit: www.marylandfarmtoschool.org.

 


August 26, 2017

Welcome to the Maryland State Fair

By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the August 26, 2017 Issue of Lancaster Farming

As the season comes to an end, I invite you all join us as we celebrate “The 11 Best Days of Summer!’ The 136th Maryland State Fair will run from August 24 until September 4 at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

As Secretary of Agriculture, I am honored to represent the most important industry in this State. I have been able to visit and meet with a number of farmers and producers across the state, but I particularly want to invite those families and residents who haven’t spent much time on a working farm to visit us at the fair.  As farmers, we want to help you understand what we do, how we do it and why we are so proud to be a part of the agricultural industry. Many of the farmers who have brought their animals and exhibitions to the fair have spent many days and long hours getting ready for this week. Unlike any place else, the Maryland State Fair gives everyone an opportunity to see cows being milked, pigs being born, horses racing, livestock being shown, and a wide array of agricultural exhibits.

I also invite all of you to bring your families to visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture at our new location in the Cow Palace this year to get a glimpse of the many diverse services we provide. We do more than just work with farmers to ensure sound farmland management practices. We also help ensure responsible use of fertilizers and pesticides by homeowners and lawn care professionals; monitor the accuracy of gas pumps and grocery scales; control mosquito populations; protect animal health ; and much more.

At the State Fair, we have different interactive games and displays rotating each day throughout the fair that you and your children can play together while learning about different aspects of agriculture.  For instance, the kids can learn how to make slime and snow from our State Chemists, spin the Wheel of Knowledge and win prizes for answering questions about Maryland agriculture, or play “Track Down the Farm Animals”–a game that shows how farmers protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  As a special treat, on September 4, we will have demonstrations on how to shuck an oyster and how to properly pick a crab every 30 minutes.

Horseland – an exhibit that started last year under the tent – will highlight the diversity of Maryland’s horse industry. If you’re interested in riding, racing, breeding or just petting a horse, you’ll want to mosey on over.

In the Farm and Garden Building, the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board will bring back its popular remote-controlled race car track in the center of the building and fairgoers can learn more about ethanol fuel. The Maryland Soybean Board will host an interactive biodiesel information kiosk and displays on innovation in agriculture technology, food and how it is grown in Maryland. The State Fair will also feature a butterfly tunnel in the building.

Along the Midway, of course, are rides, food, entertainment and many other displays.  While you enjoy exploring the Maryland State Fair, I hope you remember the true meaning of this event: a celebration of our state’s agriculture industry and its positive impact on our economy, environment, culture and quality of life.

For more information, visit www.marylandstatefair.com.

See you at the Fair!


July 22, 2017

Upcoming Events Recognize Local Agriculture

Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the July 22, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming

Our summer celebration of local products continues next week with the Buy Local Challenge (July 22-30) and moves right into a watermelon promotion at the world’s largest crab feast August 4 and Maryland Farmers Market Week (August 6-12). We hope you will join in the fun!

Buy Local Challenge

Some of us take the Buy Local Pledge every chance we get, but not everyone does. Governor Larry Hogan has officially declared July 22-30 as Buy Local Challenge Week to raise awareness about the benefits of local farms and food so that Marylanders will become more familiar and more frequent consumers of fresh, local agricultural and seafood products. I join the Governor in encouraging all Marylanders to take the pledge and eat well the week of July 23.

Buying and eating local is more than just enjoying fresh, delicious, nutritious food that tastes better – although that’s good enough reason for me. Local food is better for the environment. It keeps land open, in production and requires less fuel for transportation and therefore less pollution. Local produce is also better for you since food that travels less time and distance holds more of its nutrients. Eating local food also supports local farm families, local economies and local communities. Buying local helps preserve open space, especially in rural areas where growing development pressures put both the environment and our quality of life at risk.

In its 2012 Policy Choices Survey, the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy found that more than 78 percent of Marylanders said they want to buy produce grown by a Maryland farmer.  The Buy Local Challenge gives them an opportunity to do just that.

The Buy Local Challenge was created by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission and has since become a statewide program. The Buy Local Challenge Week is always the last full week of July. Take the Buy Local Pledge here: http://buylocalchallenge.com

To promote and kick off the Buy Local Challenge Week, Governor Larry Hogan and First Lady Yumi Hogan hosted the 10th Annual Buy Local Cookout at Government House on July 20. Recipes for the event showcased the many ways local Maryland ingredients can be used in all kinds of ways. Recipes were submitted by teams of Maryland chefs and producers and selected based on their availability of ingredients, geographic representation, maximum use of local ingredients and creativity. The Buy Local Cookout also featured grocery store chains, distributors, restaurants and institutions that support farmers.

Each year, the department publishes a cookbook of all the recipes submitted for the cookout. They can all be downloaded for free from our website at: http://mda.maryland.gov

All recipes include wine, beer or spirits pairing recommendations from the Maryland Wineries Association, Brewers Association of Maryland and the Maryland Distillers Guild.

Ask for Maryland-grown products whenever possible – while shopping for weekly groceries, eating at a Maryland restaurant, visiting children’s schools and cafeterias, even while visiting someone in the hospital. Ask where the local products are and if there aren’t any, ask them to stock some.

And don’t forget, there are nine dairy farms on Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail. Enjoying a nice scoop of farm fresh ice cream counts as buying local as well!

The Buy Local Challenge and Buy Local Week helps residents – many of whom have had no connection or contact with a real, working farm – realize how delicious local products are. Once they do that, we are certain they will continue to seek out and demand more avenues for obtaining fresh, local food.

So take the pledge, take the challenge, eat well, preserve the environment, and support your local farmers – all at the same time!

Maryland Farmers Market Week

We hope that after purchasing at least one local product each day during Buy Local Challenge Week, Marylanders will continue the practice every day of the year. To encourage consumers to continue supporting Maryland agriculture, Governor Larry Hogan has designated August 6-12 as Maryland Farmers Market Week. During this week, many markets will offer food preparation demonstrations, music and children’s activities along with an assortment of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, wine tastings, and more.

Many fruits and vegetables are now in season, and Maryland farmers are offering their freshest products at more than 145 farmers’ markets across the state. Every county and Baltimore City has at least one market and the demand for local products continues to grow. We are working hard to connect local producers with local consumers, and we invite everyone to check our searchable database at www.marylandsbest.net to find local products and markets nearby.

Purchasing locally grown products strengthens our local economies, the health of our environment and our families, and also keeps land open and productive. Farmers markets also connect urban, suburban and rural communities. By talking with farmers, consumers can learn about fresh produce as well as how to prepare and store it, while developing a bond of trust in the integrity and accountability of our growers.

Mar-Delicious Watermelons at World’s Largest Crab Feast

The Maryland Department of Agriculture together with the Mar-Del Watermelon Association will participate in the world’s largest crab feast on August 4, at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis to highlight the economic and nutritional value of watermelon. Mar-Del watermelon farmers will be on hand along with National Watermelon Queen Madison Laney, Mar-Del Watermelon Queen Connor Vincent and other state queens to hand out fresh, cool watermelon slices and fun giveaways. Maryland and Delaware are significant growers and suppliers of watermelons, which are in their prime in August.

This special event, hosted by the Rotary Club of Annapolis, is not only the world’s largest crab feast but also a major fund-raiser that benefits local community and cultural organizations. Nearly 2,500 people are expected to attend and finish off 350 bushels of crabs, 3,400 ears of corn, 100 watermelons, 100 gallons of crab soup, 1,800 hot dogs, 150 pounds of beef barbeque, and hundreds of gallons of soft drinks and beer. If you are in the Annapolis area on Friday, August 4, join the fun at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Tickets are available online at:  www.annapolisrotary.org/crabfeast

Fair and Show Season

With fair and show season in full swing, we want to re-emphasize the importance of practicing strict biosecurity when handling show pigs. Follow the link below for more information.  In light of the devastating effects of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), there is increased awareness about the need for strict biosecurity, especially when pigs come together at events such as shows and weigh-ins. With the animals being commingled at an exhibition, sale or during a weigh-in event, spreading disease is a known risk, but it can be minimized by following proper biosecurity procedures. Visit www.pork.org/show-pigs for more information on how to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading PEDV.

And for anyone who works with poultry, either in the commercial flocks or backyard flocks, I encourage you to keep taking extra biosecurity precautions so that those safety practices become habit when the risk for High Path Avian Influenza increases this fall. For more information about avian influenza and how to protect your flock, visit: www.mda.maryland.gov/Avianflu


June 24, 2017

Cover Crops and Ice Cream Trails

By Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the June 24, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming

Summer is always a busy time for Maryland farmers, but I wanted to take a moment to give you an update on a few things happening here at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Cover Crop Program

The signup period for the department’s 2017-18 Cover Crop Program will run from June 21 to July 17 at soil conservation district offices statewide. This popular program provides grants to help farmers offset seed, labor, and equipment costs to plant cover crops on their fields this fall. Governor Hogan has allocated approximately $22.5 million for this year’s program.

There are several important changes to this year’s cover crop program. As a cost-saving measure, farmers who choose to harvest their cover crops will no longer receive payment through this program. Farmers may enroll all eligible acres and decide later which acres will be harvested. There also are several exciting new program changes for farmers—legume mixes now qualify for early planting incentives, cover crop mixes containing up to three species (small grains, legumes, forage radish) are now eligible for grants, and the aerial seed planting deadline has been extended to October 7.

Maryland farmers are leaders when it comes to protecting water quality and caring for our precious soil resources. Adding cover crops into a cash crop rotation makes good sense for our farmland and our waterways. I urge all farmers to visit their soil conservation districts to sign up for cover crop grants during the enrollment window. This will be your only opportunity to apply for grants to plant cover crops on your fields this fall.

Ice Cream Trail

The Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail season officially started on May 26. The trail is made up of nine Maryland dairies that produce and sell their ice cream directly to consumers. The trail stretches more than 290 miles from Ocean City in the east to Washington County in the west. The purpose of the trail is to highlight the important contributions of Maryland’s 414 dairy farms which accounted $164 million in sales in 2016; and to increase the public’s general understanding of dairy farming.

Since June is National Dairy Month, Deputy Secretary Jim Eichhorst and I started our journey through the trail at Rocky Point Creamery in Tuscarora and Woodbourne Creamery in Mt. Airy on June 13. Our goal is to hit all nine creameries before the season ends on September 25.

GICA – Defining Agritourism

Earlier this month, the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission for Agriculture (GICA) held its first meeting of 2017. The meeting included a presentation from Grow & Fortify detailing how counties and the state can help promote value-added agriculture and agritourism. There was also a presentation from State Fire Marshall Brian Geraci on inspection guidelines for on-farm venues.

Kirk Engle of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygeine gave a presentation on his department’s work with dairy farmers to ensure that they are in compliance with state and federal laws.  Lastly, Exuctive Director Charlotte Davis of the Rural Maryland Council shared information on grants available through the council.

The Commission also voted to adopt an official definition for ‘Agritourism’ as: a series of activities conducted on a farm and offered to the public or to invited groups for the purpose of education, recreation, or active involvement in the farm operation.  These activities may include, but are not limited to, farm tours, hayrides, corn mazes, seasonal petting farms, farm museums, guest farms, pumpkin patches, “pick your own” or “cut your own” produce, classes related to agricultural products or skills and picnic and party facilities offered in conjunction with the above.

Copies of the presentations and meeting minutes will be available on the GICA website.

Buy Local

As we move into July, I want to remind all Marylanders of the many different ways to buy local products throughout the state. Farmers’ market season is in full-swing, and there are a variety of U-Pick operations offering fresh produce.

Another way to support local producers is to buy fresh Maryland seafood. Maryland is home to some of the best seafood in the world: blue crabs, rockfish, oysters, etc. The relationship between farmers and watermen goes back to the beginning of our state’s history, and summer is the perfect time to enjoy all of the fresh, local products available statewide.

Visit MarylandsBest.net to find a farmer or producer near you!

2017 Census of Agriculture

I want to close out this month’s column by encouraging all Maryland farmers to participate in the upcoming Census of Agriculture. USDA-National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) compiles this report once every five years, giving us the most credible agricultural data available. The information obtained by Census of Agriculture will help to inform everyone from farmers to lawmakers and will surely have an impact on the agriculture industry in our state. I urge all Maryland farmers to participate in the surveys so we can make sure that everyone is working with the most accurate data possible.


May 20, 2017

Spring Ag Commission Tours Dorchester, Wicomico Farms

By Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the May 20, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming

Last week I joined the Maryland Agricultural Commission for their spring agricultural tour, which featured Dorchester and Wicomico counties. We covered the Lower Shore’s major commodities: Poultry, seafood, nurseries, and fresh market produce. The commission is an advisory board to the Secretary of Agriculture, which represents all major commodities in Maryland.

J.M. Clayton Seafood Company

The tour started at J.M. Clayton Seafood Company in Cambridge, which has been in its current location since 1921 along the Choptank River. A family business now operated by the 5th generation, J.M Clayton is the oldest working crab processing plant in the world. Co- owner Jack Brooks walked the group through the processing plant from unloading crabs on the dock, to cooking 400 pounds (10 bushels) at a time in each of their two heavy duty steel steamers, to the picking, processing and packing rooms.  Perhaps the thing that made the greatest impact on the group was the labor that goes into getting a pound of crab meat from the Chesapeake Bay to final market. The department is excited to have the state’s seafood marketing program officially return to Agriculture from the Department of Natural Resources in July.

Double Trouble Farm

The group then toured the Murphy family’s Double Trouble Farm – the first Maryland poultry operation to install cutting-edge technology that converts poultry litter to energy. The Maryland Department of Agriculture awarded about $1 million from the Animal Waste Technology Grant Fund to Biomass Heating Solutions, Inc. (BHSL) for the Rhodesdale project.

It’s exciting to see Maryland farmers finding alternative uses for manure to address environmental issues while improving the farm’s bottom line. The Ireland-based BHSL system utilizes poultry litter as a feedstock by converting it to energy to heat the farm’s chicken houses and generate electricity. The system is projected to generate 526 megawatts of electricity per year. Adding heat to poultry houses has been proven at other sites to improve the flock growth rate and overall bird health.  The Murphys are working with BHSL to explore markets for the high-phosphorus ash by-product including Maryland fertilizer companies.

 

Marshall’s Riverbank Nursery

Our third stop highlighted the second largest ag sector in Maryland – horticulture – which in 2014 accounted for $251 million (about 10 percent of total farm cash receipts). John Marshall, former Commission member, led the group on a tour of his 60 acre irrigated nursery that houses 400 hoop houses and continues to expand acreage. He also highlighted one of his biggest challenges is finding people willing to do the manual labor required in nursery work.  His Salisbury-based business focuses on a mix of re-wholesalers, garden centers and landscape contractors from Northern Virginia to Massachusetts and west to Pittsburgh and Ohio.

Wright’s Market

At our final stop, Charles Wright IV, along with his wife Michelle, explained the family’s farming business in their 13,000 square foot retail market in Mardela Springs. Wright’s Market offers fresh local produce, eggs meat, seafood, ice cream, bakery items, gifts, home and garden items and Amish-made furniture. Their Longhorned cow Zorro – and the goats that keep him company – are a big attraction for visitors. Additionally, the family grows poultry, grain, processing vegetables and retail produce. In the spring, they offer pick-your-own strawberries and in the fall, they host agritourism activities for the public and about 2,000 local students for field trips.

Ice Cream Trail Opens May 26

The 2017 Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail will kick-off on May 26.  I hope all Marylanders will visit a local farm or two and enjoy some delicious local ice cream this Memorial Day weekend (and continue on the trail this summer). The trail includes nine dairy farms that produce and sell ice cream directly to consumers. The Ice Cream Trail stretches more than 290 miles from Ocean City in the east to Washington County in the west. The purpose of the trail is to highlight the important contributions of Maryland’s dairy farms and to increase the public’s general understanding of dairy farming.

You can pick up an Ice Cream Trail Passport at any of the creameries (or online at www.marylandsbest.net). Everyone who returns a completed Ice Cream Trail passport by visiting each of the nine farms on the trail and answering a question from each creamery between now and September 25 will be entered into a drawing to be named the 2017 Ice Cream Trailblazer. The grand prize includes a $50 gift certificate to a favorite creamery; a DVD set of the latest season of Maryland Public Television’s number one show – Maryland Farm and Harvest; a signed copy of “Dishing Up Maryland,” a cookbook by Lucie Snodgrass; and statewide bragging rights!


April 28, 2017

Impact of the 2017 Legislative Session on Maryland Agriculture

Published in the April 22, 2017, issue of Lancaster Farming

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe BartenfelderThroughout the 90-day session as the Maryland General Assembly gathered in Annapolis we focused on educating legislators about Maryland’s number one industry and a number of bills that would have had a direct negative impact on the agriculture industry and the operational and fiscal functions of the department.

We also continued with our outreach to inform legislators about the Department of Agriculture and services we provide to the industry, consumers and the general public. I personally participated in two agricultural briefings to various committees on the status of Maryland’s agricultural community and the department’s function as a state agency, in addition to countless individual meetings with legislators and their staff to ensure they understand the importance of Maryland’s agriculture industry to the economy and rural life.

The Department put forward three departmental bills this session that were adopted by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Larry Hogan. We are particularly excited about HB 120 Seafood and Aquaculture Product Marketing, which transfers the marketing responsibility for Maryland seafood products to the Maryland Department of Agriculture from the Department of Natural Resources. Seafood marketing will join the current Agriculture Marketing and Development Program, which will be renamed Agriculture & Seafood Marketing and Development.

Along with the marketing program, HB 120 moves approximately $190,000 in special funds from fees collected on commercial watermen and processing licenses by the Department of Natural Resources. The department will pursue further funding from USDA and other grants to support the new program, as well. Our department’s marketing program has made great strides in supporting and promoting local agriculture products, and I am confident that we can have the same success with the state’s seafood and aquaculture industry.

Governor Hogan signed two additional departmental bills into law that focused on promoting Maryland agriculture products and streamlining processes identified by industry and county governments. These bills include:

  • HB 130 – Maryland Wine and Grape Promotion Fund – creates a more efficient review and approval process for applications submitted to the Maryland Wine & Grape Promotion Fund

 

  • HB 155 – Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation- Easement Termination – streamlines the easement termination process by having the county conduct its review and hearing and deciding whether the request should be approved or denied. If the county denies the request, the request fails and does not move forward to the Foundation, resulting in the Foundation not expending time and effort on termination applications that it cannot approve.  If the request is approved, it moves forward to the Foundation to determine whether the land may be farmed profitably.

 

Governor Hogan continued to show support for Agriculture in his budget. He increased the funding for the Maryland Ag Cost Share Program (MACS) from $6 million to $8 million to help offset the lost funding from last year. This program provides farmers with grants to cover up to 87.5 percent of the cost to install conservation measures known as best management practices on their farms to prevent soil erosion, manage nutrients and safeguard water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and the other land preservation programs received full funding this year along with $2.5 million in funding for MARBIDCO’s Next Generation Ag Land Preservation Program.

The Governor included an additional $2.5 million in his supplemental budget to pay for the record 560,000 acres of cover crops acres planted by farmers last fall. Cover crops are one of the most cost effective practices and environmentally sustainable ways for farmers to help the State reach its Chesapeake Bay clean up goals. During budget deliberations, the legislature cut the funding for this important program. The department is looking at other funding sources to ensure farmers who participated in the program are compensated for their certified planted acres.

The General Assembly also passed the following legislation of interest to the agricultural community:

SB 422 – Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017– after being severely amended, prohibits the administration of a medically important antimicrobial drug to cattle, swine, or poultry solely for the purpose of promoting weight gain or improving feed efficiency. The Maryland Department of Agriculture must annually collect, and report on, specified publicly available data on the use in the State of medically important antimicrobial drugs in cattle, swine, and poultry. The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to impose an administrative penalty for a violation of the bill’s provisions and may adopt regulations to carry out the bill. As amended, this bill conforms to the federal rule that went into effect on January 1, 2017.

HB 1063 – Maryland Healthy Soils Program – establishes the Maryland Healthy Soils Program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The primary function of this bill is to assist and educate farmers on how to improve their soil health. The key objective of this bill is to improve soil quality. The removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, also known as carbon sequestration, will also be reviewed and studied through the program.

HB 1035 – Motor Vehicles – Seasonal Exceptional Milk Hauling Permit – re-establishes the Exceptional Milk Hauling Permit that was allowed to sunset last October. This bill would make permanent the annual permit to allow up to 88,000 pounds on a 5-axle truck during the “spring flush,” which includes the months of March through June.

 

SB 917- Motor Vehicles – Gross Weight and Axle Load and Exceptional Hauling –establishes an Exceptional Hauling Permit for hauling live poultry within the nine Eastern Shore counties. This permit would be similar to the Exceptional Milk Hauling Permit and allow up to 88,000 pounds on a 5-axle truck. However, the permit is only valid for six months of the year (November through April) and has a five-year sunset. Additional data and reporting requirements must also be sent from the poultry haulers to the State Highway Administration.

 

SB 416 – Income Tax Credit – Qualified Farms – Food Donation Pilot Program – creates a pilot program for a state tax income credit of up to $5,000 for qualified farms donating food to authorized organizations. The program, which goes into effect on July 1, 2017, would be limited to Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties.

 

The department will continue to work with a wide-range of various stakeholders, commissions, and advisory boards, after the session to address any possible legislative issues or policy developments.

 


Mid-Atlantic State Ag Leaders Hold 3rd Annual Meeting in Annapolis

 
Agriculture Secretaries and Commissioners from five Mid-Atlantic States held their 3rd annual meeting in Annapolis on April 25 to discuss mutual interests and goals of their respective agricultural communities. Agenda topics included: federal-state partnerships, water quality goals and the Chesapeake Bay, nutrient management, manure transport, the Food Safety Modernization Act, Zika virus, high path avian influenza, and international trade issues.

Key participants included: Cecil Rodrigues (EPA Region III Administrator), Joe Bartenfelder (Maryland Secretary of Agriculture), Michael Scuse (Delaware Secretary of Agriculture), Sandy Adams (Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services), Kent Leonhardt (West Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Poultry), and Greg Hostetter (Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Agriculture) and Kelly Shenk, EPA Region III, Chesapeake Bay Program Office Agriculture Lead.

“I thank EPA Region III for their partnership in working together with agriculture and our neighboring colleagues for recognizing the importance of making the trip for this meeting. Our states are the closest to the Chesapeake Bay and it is essential for us to work cooperatively to help us reach one of our biggest shared goals – to protect and restore our national treasure, the Chesapeake Bay. We look forward continuing our work together.” – Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder

PHOTO ID (L-R): Greg Hostetter (Pennsylvania Dep. Secretary of Agriculture), Joe Bartenfelder (Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture), Michael Scuse, (Delaware Secretary of Agriculture), Cecil Rodrigues (EPA Region 3 Administrator), Sandy Adams (Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner), and Kent Leonhardt (West Virginia Department of Agriculture Secretary).


March 28, 2017

Celebrating Maryland Agriculture Week

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder

Published in the March 25, 2017, issue of Lancaster Farming

We just celebrated the 44th National Agriculture Day (March 21), which recognizes the contributions of agriculture to American society and thanks our farmers for providing us with life’s necessities – food, fiber, clothing and shelter. To coincide with this national celebration, Governor Larry Hogan declared March 19-25 as “Maryland Agriculture Week.”

There are 2.1 million farms in the United States, a country with nearly 319 million people. Agriculture products remain the nation’s top export. Each American farmer today feeds more than 155 people – a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s. American agriculture is doing more – and doing it better. As the world population soars, there is an even greater demand for the food and fiber produced in the United States.

From the mountains of Western Maryland with its dairy farms and hay to Central Maryland with its greenhouse and livestock industries to the Eastern Shore’s acres of corn and poultry – Maryland truly grows something for everyone. Our vibrant agricultural industry is a critical component of our state’s economy, and our farmers go above and beyond to provide fresh, quality food that is accessible, affordable, and safe for our citizens. That’s a lot to celebrate during Ag Week!

Frederick Douglass High School New Ag Program

I spent National Ag Day with Mayor Catherine Pugh and Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford and students at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore City, where the department has been working with the school leaders, Maryland Nursery Landscape and Greenhouse Association, Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation and other industry and community leaders to bring hands-on agricultural experiences to the students. The school has created a Garden Club and developed an Urban Agriculture class with 24 students involved this inaugural year.

Thanks to the many partnerships and generous support of the industry, two new hoop houses were erected last fall. The Lt. Governor and I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the hoop houses during a statewide kick-off event for Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week at the school last September.

On National Ag Day, we helped students transplant begonias into larger pots. These are the first plants to be grown in the school’s new hoop houses, and will give each student in the school an opportunity to take home a flower on Mother’s Day weekend that was grown by Frederick Douglass students.

Hopefully in the future, we can start a FFA chapter at the school. Next year, we hope the school will be able to grow plants in the hoop houses and hold a plant sale to raise money for the school’s agriculture program.

Ag Literacy Campaign

Next month, I will join Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Dr. Craig Beyrouty, University of Maryland Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to visit third grade classrooms at Beltsville Academy Elementary School. We will be reading the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation 2017 Ag Literacy Campaign book “Hatching Chicks in Room 6” by Caroline Arnold. This book teaches children about the life cycle of a chicken, incubating eggs, watching them hatch, and raising the chicks until they are old enough to return to the chicken coop.

This is the seventh year for Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s annual Ag Literacy Program. This Ag in the Classroom program seeks to instill the importance of agriculture in student’s daily lives.

You can be a Literacy Volunteer and set up a time to visit in a nearby school and read to students in grades K-3. Following the reading of the book, volunteers conduct an activity with the students and share their experiences in agriculture.  The book is then left in the classroom or media center with a book plate indicating the donor.

Lesson plans and ideas for many activities can be found at www.maefonline.com. To order hardback copies of the book for $10 each, or for more information, visit maefonline.com, or contact Jeanne Mueller 410-848-4745 or jmueller@maefonline.com.

2017 Ag Census

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service just launched the 2017 Census of Agriculture in conjunction with National Ag Day. This data is so important on a number of levels, and there is strength in numbers.

As a farmer, I encourage you to participate in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. It is our voice, our future, and our opportunity to shape American agriculture – its policies, services, and assistance programs – for years to come.

If you are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture form in 2012, there is still time to sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture report form by visiting www.agcensus.usda.gov and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button through June.

Spring Means Farmers’ Markets

Spring also means farmers markets will be opening up across the state. Farmers’ markets provide an important source of income for farmers.  They also serve as integral links between urban, suburban and rural communities. By talking one-on-one with farmers, consumers can learn about fresh produce including preparation and storage tips. Consumers also develop a bond of trust in the integrity and accountability of our growers.

In preparation for the season, the department will hold its annual farmers’ market conference with nearly 100 participants on April 10. This conference provides participants an opportunity to network and connect with experts on farmers’ market issues in Maryland and nationally. It will also introduce market managers to prospective farmers and vendors. We look forward to a great season!


February 25, 2017

Eastern Shore Tours with Governor Hogan and Legislative Update

Published in the Feb. 25, 2017, issue of Lancaster Farming

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe BartenfelderGovernor Larry Hogan made several key agricultural stops on February 13, during a day-long visit to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and I had the privilege of joining him.

Animal Waste Technology

Last week, the Governor and I toured the first Maryland poultry operation to install cutting-edge technology that converts poultry litter to energy at the Murphy family’s Double Trouble Farm in Dorchester County.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture awarded a $970,000 animal waste technology grant to Biomass Heating Solutions, Inc. (BHSL) for the manure-to-energy project and an additional $139,000 to monitor its operation for one year.

This project has the following benefits:

  • Reduced environmental impact: A reduction in the potential environmental impact of manure resources
  • Lower energy costs: A reduction in energy costs through using heat from the manure as a source for heating poultry houses
  • Improved animal welfare: Improved animal welfare, with improved health and reduced risk of diseases
  • Improved performance: Faster growth – poultry reaching target weight more quickly
  • Additional revenue: Potential expansion of revenue streams – earnings from the sale of excess electricity and a fertilizer by-product

Projects like this can help to improve water quality, increase energy independence, improve animal waste management, and ensure sustainability of animal agriculture in Maryland – all while improving the farm’s bottom line.

The Murphy farm and its new technology were featured on Maryland Public Television’s Maryland Farm & Harvest show on January 24.  The show is available to watch online at www.mpt.org/farm.

Maryland’s Animal Waste Technology Fund is a grant program that provides seed funding to companies that demonstrate innovative technologies to manage or repurpose manure resources.

To date, the program has approved $3.7 million in grants to six projects.

The next operational project we plan to feature will be Planet Found Energy Development project at Millenium Farms in Pocomoke City. Planet Found received a $676,000 state grant for the project, which uses an anaerobic digester to convert chicken litter into methane gas which, in turn, is used to produce electricity (26 kilowatts/hour plant producing an estimated 100,000 kilowatts/year). The system will send excess electricity not used on the farm to the grid. Excess heat generated may be used to offset propane costs for poultry house heating

Also, CleanBay Renewables, which received a $1.4 million state grant, is ready to break ground for the first of four regional facilities to convert poultry litter to energy. They should be operational in Somerset County by 2018 and will be starting one other facility in Maryland and two in Delaware.

Moving Seafood Marketing to MDA

We also toured J.M. Clayton – the world’s oldest crab processing facility – in Cambridge in support of House Bill 120, which would move the state’s seafood and aquaculture marketing program from the Department of Natural Resources back to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

There’s a reason there is a farmer and a watermen on our State seal. This bill is an important step toward recognizing the bond between farmers and watermen.

During the visit, Governor Hogan unveiled a new logo concept for “Maryland’s Best Seafood.” We all know that Maryland is home to the best seafood, and with a strong marketing plan from the Department of Agriculture, Maryland will be open to new markets and opportunities for our watermen.

The industry would benefit from established relationships with distributors, restaurants, grocery chains and other institutions, in addition to the department’s experience in promoting products to international buyers through the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA).

HB120 will move approximately $190,000 in special funds from fees collected on commercial watermen and processing licenses by the Department of Natural Resources. In addition to this funding, the department will be able to pursue further funding from USDA and other grants to support the new program.

The House Environment and Transportation Committee held a hearing on February 8 where the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources and industry leaders testified in support of the bill with no opposition.

 

Legislation of Interest

HB 130 – The bill creates a more efficient review and approval process for applications submitted to the Maryland Wine & Grape Promotion Fund. The bill repeals the definition of the Maryland Wine and Grape Promotion Council and the Council. It requires the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Maryland Wine and Grape Growing to advise and recommend to the Secretary of Agriculture for approval the allocation of specified funds for specified projects in the Maryland Wine and Grape Promotion Fund.

HB 155 – Provides a process correction. Currently, if a landowner submits a request to terminate the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation’s easement, the statutory process requires separate, simultaneous review processes by the county receiving the request and the Foundation. If the county denies the termination request, the Foundation cannot approve it, however, the Foundation is statutorily compelled to complete its review and conduct its own hearing. This requires expenditure/s up to or in excess of $10,000 in expert fees, and a substantial amount of personnel time and resources, all of which may be unnecessary should the county find through its own process that the easement termination cannot be approved.

The proposed legislation segments the termination process by having the county conduct its review and hearing and deciding whether the request should be approved or denied. If the county denies the request, the request fails and does not move forward to the Foundation, resulting in the Foundation not expending time and effort on termination applications that it cannot approve. If the request is approved, it moves forward to the Foundation to determine whether the land may be farmed profitably.

HB602 / SB422 – Antibiotics bill – will prohibits cattle, swine, or poultry premises from administrating antimicrobial drugs without a prescription or Veterinary Feed Directive order issued by a veterinarian licensed in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Agriculture opposes the legislation as written because it is duplicative and incomplete compared to the national effort by FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to place the use of medically important antibiotics in feed and water under veterinary oversight.

For the latest information, positions and testimony on 2017 legislation impacting Maryland agriculture, visit our website.


February 17, 2017

Updates on the Food Safety Modernization Act and Maryland Legislative Session

Published in the January 28, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe BartenfelderLegislative Update

During the Legislative Session, the Maryland Department of Agriculture follows many bills that may impact the agency and the customers we serve. We will regularly post a synopsis of the bills the department is tracking and a hearing schedule that is updated from the Department of Legislative Service​​s’ website. If we provide a PowerPoint presentation or written testimony for any bill, it will be posted on our website after the hearing, if not sooner.

Last week my team and I briefed the Maryland Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs and House Environment & Transportation committees on a number of issues and provided status updates on the Phosphorus Management Tool and Manure Transport Program at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

You can access those presentations and all of our 2017 Legislation information at www.mda.maryland.gov under “Hot Topics”.

 

Food Safety Modernization Act

Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2010 giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate food production/manufacturing practices. FDA has promulgated seven rules to implement FSMA – four of which potentially have an impact on Maryland farmers.

The most significant impact on Maryland farmers will be the Produce Safety Rule, which for the first time regulates production practices (human pathogens in irrigation water, use of biological soil amendments, worker health and hygiene and proximity of livestock, poultry, domestic and wild animals to fruit and vegetable production).

FDA awarded $3.6 million over five years to the Maryland Department of Agriculture to develop a Maryland Produce Safety Program equivalent to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule that includes: outreach; education and technical assistance for produce growers and packers; and eventually inspection and enforcement of the provisions of the Produce Safety Rule. FDA plans to continue funding the Maryland Produce Safety Program after the initial five year period in lieu of FDA conducting inspections and enforcement in Maryland. MDA has a cooperative agreement with University of Maryland and University of Maryland Extension to provide the education and technical assistance farmers will need to successfully implement practices that meet the requirements of the rule. The department will provide outreach and technical assistance to produce growers and will develop the inspection and enforcement piece. The first inspections are required to be conducted in 2018.

The Produce Safety Rule exempts the following:

  • Farmers that only grow produce that is rarely consumed raw, such as potatoes and food grains.
  • Farmers that only grow produce that receives commercial processing with a step that adequately reduces the presence of microorganisms of public health concern, as long as they maintain required documentation.
  • Produce growers with less than $25,000 of annual produce sales.

Additionally, produce growers with less than $500,000 of human and animal food sales annually based on a three year average that sell more than 50 percent of the food directly to consumers or to a retail or food service location within the same state or no more than 275 miles away may be eligible for a “Qualified Exemption”. Although the gross sales used to determine eligibility for the “Qualified Exemption” include both human and animal food, the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule only apply to produce covered by the rule.

 

FSMA Compliance Dates Fast Approaching

Any grower who believes they may meet the “Qualified Exempt” criteria must begin maintaining records starting January 26, 2017, documenting their total gross sales of human and animal food and the gross sales directly to the consumer and to restaurants and retailers located within Maryland or not more than 275 miles away. Modified requirements for labeling must be in place by January 1, 2020. Very small businesses (defined as those with more than $25,000 but no more than $250,000 produce sales annually based on a three year average) are required to be compliant by January 26, 2020. Small businesses (defined as those with more than $250,000 but no more than $500,000 produce sales annually based on a three year average) are required to be compliant by January 26, 2019. All other farms are required to be compliant by January 26, 2018.

Whether a Maryland farm falls into the exempt, qualified exempt or fully covered category, all produce growers will need to follow the requirements of the produce safety rule to protect public health and meet buyer requirements. Although many farms have already implemented best practices for produce safety, there is always room for improvement. MDA is currently identifying and developing resources to assist Maryland produce growers in implementing practices that meet the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule and will provide the safest produce possible to consumers. For more information, visit www.mda.maryland.gov/fsma


January 3, 2017

New winter manure rules protect the bay

The following was published in the December 6, 2016 Baltimore Sun

To the Editor:

The November 30 Op-Ed “Maryland wants to weaken winter manure rules” does not provide readers with the facts about the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s proposed changes to state nutrient management regulations. These changes will balance environmental protections and maintain sustainable soil health within the realities of farming and Mother Nature. When working around unknown conditions – like weather – it’s difficult to develop a one-size fits all solution.

Weather conditions are cited as one of the main reasons for sewer overflows, which according to Maryland Department of Environment 2016 overflow reports accounted for more than 117 million gallons of sewage directly entering our waterways.

The proposal adds a an emergency provision during winter restrictions to allow the Department to work with farmers to prevent an overflow from a storage structure by following procedures to minimize impact and prevent runoff into waterways. This exemption does not apply to biosolids or food waste. It is only for on-farm generated manure for which the farmer cannot store due to extraordinary circumstances.

Farmers have been taking action to comply with the manure storage regulations. Since 2012 dairy farmers constructed 58 waste storage structures and 14 are underway. Livestock farmers have applied to construct an additional 394 manure storage facilities. Storage structures are only one of many best management practices that state Soil Conservation Districts staff handle and there is currently a back log. Therefore, an emergency provision is still needed for those farms that have some storage and shown intent, but have not yet been able to build additional facilities.

The department strengthened the regulations by adding a provision that farmers cannot ever apply manure if the ground is frozen or snow covered and requiring 100 foot setbacks from surface water for any spreading during the winter.

Additional proposed changes include:

1)      Removing the incorporation requirement for spring and fall manure spreading. National Resources Conservation Service studies show soil health is improved with little or no soil disturbance other than planting.

2)      Extending the fall spreading dates to reflect Sept. 10 – Dec. 15 and eliminating the east and west of the Bay distinction to provide consistency across the State and with average weather conditions. New winter dates will be Dec. 16 – March 1.

We discussed the proposed changes at the Nutrient Management Advisory Committee and Phosphorus Management Tool Advisory Committee meetings over the summer, as well as several dairy workshops and one-on-one meetings with environmental organizations. The consensus from the meetings is that these are reasonable changes that account for the variability in weather conditions across our state, and providing sustainable soil health practice options for farmers while still providing environmental protections.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the significant progress that has been made already and that Maryland agriculture is on track to meet its 2017 water quality goals. These proposed changed will not impact our progress in meeting these goals.

Maryland farmers continue to plant record cover crop acreage, which is one of the most cost-effective ways to keep nitrogen out of ground water and the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, the State invested $31.2 million in grants last year for farmers to install 2,440 conservation projects that control soil erosion, reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality in streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Hogan Administration’s Maryland Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative has also been instrumental in helping farmers reduce agricultural phosphorus and improve water quality. Last year alone, Maryland farmers moved 213,151 tons of manure away from farm fields with high soil phosphorus levels—a nearly 40 percent increase over last year’s transport figures. And since 2014, the State has issued $5.4 million in grants through the Animal Waste Technology Fund to support new on-farm manure management technologies.

Many people are concerned about the health of the Chesapeake Bay – none more so than farmers, who rely on our land and water to grow food and fiber for us all.

Joe Bartenfelder

Secretary, Maryland Department of Agriculture

 


Preparing for the New Year

Published in the December 24, 2016 issue of Lancaster Farming

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe BartenfelderAs the holiday season draws to a close and we prepare for a new year, it’s a good time to get up to speed on potential issues for the coming year, including a new legislative session. And, if you are a poultry grower, please take note of High Path Avian Influenza outbreaks around the world and intensify your biosecurity efforts.

2017 Legislative Session

January 11 marks the start Maryland’s 90-day legislative session of the 2017 Maryland General Assembly. We are starting to hear about some legislation that may be introduced this session that would be of considerable interest to the agriculture community.

Likely topics include: legislation that would negatively affect the poultry and dairy community. Initiatives to place additional regulatory burdens on poultry producers through taxes and take away from current cost share programs like the manure transportation program. The department will closely monitor these pieces of legislation and is committed to keep Maryland farmers competitive and profitable.  The department is also looking forward to putting forth measures that will promote Maryland agriculture and streamline several departmental programs.

There is only one active farmer currently in the legislature, which underscores the need for us to help our lawmakers better understand agriculture. If the General Assembly schedules a hearing for a bill that will affect your operation, I urge you all to come to Annapolis and testify.

High Path Avian Influenza

In light of the recent High Path Avian Influenza outbreaks in Western Europe, Russia, Israel, India, Korea, and Japan, Maryland poultry growers, large and small, are at a much higher risk of seeing High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) destroy their flocks. As a result, we are calling for a renewed effort this winter by all poultry producers to intensify their biosecurity efforts.

While we have been fortunate to date, we must be vigilant and cannot afford to take any risks.  I know it’s difficult to maintain a high level of biosecurity alert day after day, but it is better than the alternative. We have to do all we can to keep this virus out of our poultry flocks.

The Eurasia HPAI outbreaks are caused by HPAI H5N8, which has very close similarities to the virus that caused so much devastation in the United States in 2015.  In Japan, the very recent HPAI outbreaks are caused by HPAI H5N6 – a new HPAI viral strain – and it is too early to tell how much devastation it will cause.

These viruses can be carried by waterfowl migrating this winter southward across the Bering Strait into Western Canada and could be introduced into the lower 48 states through one of the four U.S. migratory flyways.

To maintain a sanitary, bio-secure premise, growers should at a minimum:

  • Restrict access to poultry by posting a sign stating “Restricted Access,” securing the area with a gate, or both.
  • Take steps to ensure that contaminated materials on the ground are not transported into the poultry growing house or area.
  • Provide the following items to anyone entering or leaving any area where poultry are kept:
    • Footbaths and foot mats with disinfectant;
    • Boot washing and disinfectant station;
    • Footwear change or foot covers.
  • Cover and secure feed to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing it.
  • Cover and properly contain poultry carcasses, used litter, or other disease-containing organic materials to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing them and to keep them from being blown around by wind.
  • Allow MDA to enter the premises during normal working hours to inspect your biosecurity and sanitation practices. Growers should report any unusual bird deaths or sudden increases in very sick birds to the Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810or after hours to 410-841-5971.  All growers and others interested in HPAI are strongly encouraged to read up about HPAI and biosecurity measures on the MDA website.

Maryland Farm & Harvest

These cold winter nights provide a great opportunity to catch up on the most popular series on Maryland Public Television – Maryland Farm & Harvest. We are a few weeks into the fourth season and planning is already underway for a fifth. I am happy to report that Maryland Farm & Harvest has become MPT’s number one program with over 4 million viewers since it debuted in Fall 2013. The show has been a valuable asset in educating the public and younger generations

I am very proud of MDA’s involvement with the program, and I thank all of our sponsors for their support. Make sure you tune into MPT every Tuesday night at 7:30. Or watch online anytime at www.mpt.org/farm.

In closing, I am grateful for the hard work and dedicated efforts of our farmers who work each day to provide food and fiber for us all.  I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.


Contact Information

If you have any questions, need additional information or would like to arrange an interview, please contact:

Julie Oberg
Director of Communications
Telephone: 410-841-5888

Jason Schellhardt
Public Information Officer - Media Relations
Telephone: 410-841-5744


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