A Look Back at the Progress We Made In 2015
Published January 16, 2016, in Lancaster Farming
It’s been a busy year since I joined the Maryland Department of Agriculture to serve our agricultural community. As Maryland’s ninth secretary of agriculture, I have strived to accomplish the three goals I announced at the start of my service:
- Diversify and expand agricultural businesses;
- Rebuild farmer trust in the department; and
- Work directly with elected officials and legislators to promote the importance of agriculture.
I’d like to tell you about the progress we have made in meeting these goals.
Diversify and Expand Agricultural Businesses
We are helping farmers diversify their businesses and capitalize on expanding marketing opportunities arising from the growing consumer demand for local products and desire to better understand where their food comes from.
The department launched a revitalized Maryland’s Best logo in May. This on-going campaign emphasizes “Fresh, Local” and develops advertising designed to drive consumers to www.MarylandsBest.net to find local farms.
We also promote Maryland agriculture through a variety of campaigns and events including: Maryland’s Ice Cream Trail, which includes eight farms stretching from Ocean City to Washington County; Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, which kicks off “Buy Local Challenge Week”; and National Farmers Market Week (first week of August), which promotes local markets.
Through the department’s international marketing arm, we are working to open new markets abroad. I participated in Cuba’s International Trade Fair in Havana in November. There, we met with high level Cuban officials to promote Maryland products, especially soybeans, grains and poultry.
Buyer Grower Meeting
Our annual Buyer-Grower meeting, a wholesale local food trade show held in Annapolis, connects Maryland farmers, aquaculturalists, producers, and processors with a variety of buyers. Last year more than 370 people participated. Even more are expected on January 20.
Maryland’s Horse Industry
Maryland has more horses per square mile than any other state and are an important part of our cultural heritage and the agriculture economy. Working with the Maryland Horse Industry Board, a program within the department, we have promoted the industry with our “Touch of Class” awards, the Maryland Horse Chase, the 11-day My Maryland Horse Festival at the Maryland State Fair, and the development of the Horse Discovery network. We have also supported a variety of equine events including: the Preakness Stakes, “Racing with the Times” movie premier, Fair Hill International, Maryland High School Rodeo Championship, and the Maryland Million – to name a few.
As our citizens becomes further removed from daily farm life, it is increasingly important to educate people about where their food comes from. Every year, we promote and support Homegrown School Lunch Week through our Farm to School program. During the past year, I participated in the Maryland FFA Convention, read to students at Fullerton Elementary School to celebrate National Ag Day / Read Across Maryland, and also visited Sam Ogle Middle School in Prince George’s County to learn about their garden initiative. We are also working with the State Department of Education and industry representatives to help a Baltimore City school build greenhouses, raised bed gardens, incorporate agriculture into their curriculum, and create internships that could lead to future career opportunities. We hope to have more news about that later in the year.
Rebuilding Farmer Trust
Under the Hogan-Rutherford Administration, Maryland is open for business – and that includes our farm and agricultural-based businesses. The department has been working with farmers to help them see the department as a resource that is here to help them.
As one of his first actions in office, Governor Larry Hogan proposed enhanced Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations as part of a broader “Maryland Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative.” This initiative is designed to further Maryland’s efforts to improve water quality, strengthen the agricultural industry, and bolster rural economies. The regulations, which went into effect June 8, reflect feedback from the agricultural and environmental communities and are a fair and balanced plan for limiting phosphorus.
The regulations included forming a PMT Advisory Committee and conducting an economic impact study. The committee met for the first time last month and eight farms are now participating in an on-farm economic impact study. Those eight farms are fully implementing the phosphorus management requirements this and next year, which will give us a good idea of how the tool will impact their operations. To help farmers meet the regulations, we have strong funding for the Manure Transport Program, with priority given to farms with high phosphorus soil levels. We are also in a position to assist those who want to start incorporating manure and need equipment in the short term in lieu of using custom applicators.
Animal Waste Technology Fund
Because managing manure will become an even bigger challenge to some farmers in the future, the department has funded five farm-scale projects related to manure to energy and animal waste management through the Animal Waste Technology Fund. Last month, we issued another Request for Proposal for an additional $2.5 million to fund projects that demonstrate new technologies on farms and provide alternate strategies for managing animal manure without impacting water quality. Ultimately, these projects will help farmers meet the requirements of the state’s stringent nutrient management law. Of this new funding, $1 million will be directed at renewable energy or related components of project(s).
Working with Elected Officials
As a former county and state elected official for nearly 30 years, I know first-hand how important it is for officials to understand the real-life impact of laws and regulations. On Monday, we hosted a group of legislators to tour the department, see our labs and hear from our employees about the work they do to protect consumers and the environment and to promote agriculture. This past fall, we hosted tours for legislators on 16 farms in seven counties. In all, 31 lawmakers, plus legislative staffers participated. At the Maryland State Fair, for the first time, we hosted a breakfast and tour of the fairgrounds and had a great response from the two dozen officials who participated. We will continue working 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 overall economy.
A Final Note – High Path Avian Influenza
Now that winter temperatures have plummeted, we are starting to see the fall migration of ducks and geese – the primary carriers of high path avian influenza, or bird flu. The risk to flock owners, large and small, is now very high. We have spent the past year coordinating, training and preparing with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, our counterparts in Delaware and Virginia, the poultry industry, and so many others who will be impacted if the disease arrives in our state. Our two internationally accredited animal health diagnostic labs test every flock prior to slaughter, and our inspectors follow up on reports of sick birds. We believe we are as prepared as we can be. We continue to urge all flock owners to practice strict biosecurity.
The year ahead will continue to bring more opportunities for Maryland agriculture, and I look forward to continuing to serve Marylanders.