July 1, 2019
Published in the May 25, 2019, edition of Lancaster Farming
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
July is just around the corner, which means we are heading into peak season for Maryland produce! It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy some delicious Maryland sweet corn, or sink your teeth into a Mar-Delicious watermelon. Our state grows such a wide variety of fresh, quality produce that we have a little something for everyone to enjoy.
I was reminded of that as I reviewed the recipes we received for Governor Larry Hogan’s Buy Local Cookout. Each year, the Governor and First Lady host cookout featuring dishes prepared by Maryland chefs using locally sourced ingredients. This event marks the kickoff of our Buy Local Challenge week (July 20-28), which asks all Marylanders to take a pledge to include at least one Maryland-grown or produced item in their meals each day.
We received more than 40 recipes for this year’s event, and 16 were chosen to participate in the cookout. First Lady Yumi Hogan and the Government House staff will also prepare an entrée and dessert for the event.
The Buy Local Cookout is a great opportunity to showcase the many delicious options available right here in our state. Thanks to our hard-working family farmers, watermen and producers, we can offer a vast array of diverse, creative dishes. This year’s cookout will feature everything from duck-stuffed pork, to blue catfish gazpacho, to my personal favorite, beef and mushroom sliders.
All of this year’s recipe submissions will be published in the 2019 Maryland Buy Local Cookout Recipes, which will include wine, beer or spirits pairing recommendations from the Maryland Wineries Association, Brewers Association of Maryland and the Maryland Distillers Guild. The cookbook will be available online when completed next month.
MDA has published several cookbooks full of recipes from years past that can be made with local products. Some are simple and quick, others are more complex. Past cookbooks are available free online http://mda.maryland.gov/Pages/Buy-Local-Cookout.aspx.
During Buy Local Challenge Week, we encourage everyone to support Maryland’s farmers, watermen and producers by purchasing at least one locally grown, made or harvested product each day. After trying it for a week, we hope you will continue that practice every day of the year.
The Buy Local Challenge, created in 2006 by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, has grown into a statewide initiative that has continued to evolve. In its latest 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.
Sign up for the challenge online at: www.buy-local-challenge.com/
National Ice Cream Month/Dairy Margin Coverage Program
I know we are just now wrapping up National Dairy Month, but I hope you are not tired of ice cream just yet! July is National Ice Cream Month, and there is no better way to celebrate than visiting one of our nine on-farm creameries along the Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail. This is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends on a working dairy farm and learn more about what goes into producing this delicious summer staple.
As for our dairy farmers, I want remind everyone that the sign-up period is now open for the USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage program. As I mentioned in last month’s column, Governor Hogan has included $1.5 million in his budget to cover premium costs for Maryland dairy farmers participating in the program. We have hosted a series of informational meetings across the state with USDA FSA and University of Maryland Extension to get the word out. Visit your local USDA FSA office to sign up today!
May 31, 2019
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer fun season. Here at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, we plan to spend the summer celebrating and promoting our state’s top industry: agriculture. One of the best ways to do that is to get out and visit one of our state’s 12,400 farms! We are lucky to live amongst a wide variety of operations that grow and produce a diverse range of food and fiber. This presents a lot of opportunities to get out in the field with family and friends and learn something new!
Here are a couple ways our department will be supporting and celebrating our farmers in the coming weeks:
Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail
This weekend marks the official start of the 2019 Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail season. Now in its seventh year, the Ice Cream Trail has been one of our most popular promotions, aimed at promoting our dairy farmers and encouraging Marylanders to visit a working farm.
The trail includes nine Maryland dairies that produce and sell their ice cream directly to consumers. The trail stretches more than 290 miles from Worcester County in the east to Washington County in the west. The 2019 Ice Cream Trail dairies include: Prigel Family Creamery (Baltimore), Kilby Cream (Cecil), South Mountain Creamery (Frederick), Rocky Point Creamery (Frederick), Broom’s Bloom Dairy (Harford), Keyes Creamery (Harford), Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard (Montgomery), Misty Meadow Farm Creamery (Washington), and Chesapeake Bay Farms (Worcester).
You can pick up an Ice Cream Trail Passport at any of the participating creameries (or online at www.marylandsbest.net). Complete the Ice Cream Trail passport by visiting every stop on the trail and answering a question from each creamery by September 23. Send it in to us and you will be entered into a drawing to be named the 2019 Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail Blazer.
Dairy Risk Management Meetings
Speaking of our dairy farmers, the department is partnering with the University of Maryland Extension and United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to host three regional meetings for dairy farmers in Carroll, Kent, and Washington counties, June 12-14. The meetings will provide information on available risk management tools, including FSA’s Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, and a new state cost-share program that will cover its premium costs for Maryland farmers.
Governor Hogan included $1.5 million in his supplemental budget to pay premium costs for dairy farmers participating in the new DMC program. The state program will cover Tier I production in 2019 (up to 5 million pounds of milk produced) at the $9.50 margin coverage level. Premiums will be paid directly from the department to FSA on behalf of Maryland producers. Farmers can begin signing up for the DMC program at their local FSA field office starting June 17.
Dairy farmers across the country have been struggling with low milk prices and high feed costs for years, and we want to make sure our department is doing everything we can to help Maryland dairy farmers through these tough times. I encourage all of our dairy farmers to attend one of these regional meetings and learn more about the risk management options available at the state and federal level.
Farmers Market Season
Another staple of summertime is the availability of fresh, delicious produce from farmers markets and farm stands across the state. Maryland agriculture is unique in its diversity. Our farmers grow everything from leafy greens to sweet corn to watermelons. With at least one farmers market in each county and Baltimore City, there is plenty of opportunity to get out and buy locally sourced goods directly from our farmers.
Farmers markets provide an important venue where farmers get to interact directly with the customer. There is a lot of misleading information out there about agricultural production and this is a great way to educate consumers on exactly where their food comes from.
For a full list of farmers markets across the state, visit MarylandsBest.net.
April 27, 2019
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
In my five years as secretary of agriculture, I have often talked about our administration’s commitment to keeping rural Maryland open for business, and finding growth opportunities for our agriculture industry. Earlier this month, we were pleased to see statistical proof that Maryland agriculture is continuing to grow in the right direction.
On April 11, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) published the long awaited results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture. This report is regarded as the most complete, credible set of data available on our industry. This information will inform decisions for farmers, lawmakers, financial institutions and beyond.
This is the first new data of its kind since the agency’s 2012 Census of Agriculture. In those five years, we are seeing steady improvements in a number of key categories. This census also provides brand new information on farm operators and on-farm decision making.
Maryland’s total value of production for 2017 came in at $2.5 billion—a 9% increase from 2012. On a more micro level, the state’s per farm average net income increased from $38,920 in 2012 to $52,997 in 2017, which is a 36% increase.
One interesting trend in the data was an increase in the number of farms within the state: we have gained 173 farms since the last census, despite only a negligible change in acreage. This is due in part to an increase of smaller farms with less than 10 acres of land.
For the 2017 Census of Agriculture, NASS changed the demographic questions to better represent the roles of all persons involved in on-farm decision making. As a result, in 2017 the number of all producers in Maryland was 21,279, up from 19,055 producers in 2012.
We are seeing some promising trends among those 21,279 producers:
- The number of female producers has increased by 33% since 2012. Overall, females account for 38% of the state’s producers, outpacing the national rate of 27%.
- New and beginning producers with 10 years or less of farming comprised of 5,764 producers.
- Producers with military service were published for the first time with 2,054 producers represented.
- Young producers, age 35 years or less, comprised of 2,262 producers with an average age of 28.6 years old.
I am especially encouraged to see the number of young producers included in this data. As a fifth-generation farmer who has handed the operation over to the sixth-generation, I know exactly how important young farmers are to the future of our industry.
For much more on the 2017 Census of Agriculture, visit http://nass.usda.gov/
Chesapeake Bay Ag Leaders Meeting
In the spirit of looking forward to our industry’s future, I was honored to host the 5th Annual Chesapeake Bay Ag Leaders Meeting here at MDA headquarters in Annapolis earlier this week. These meetings have proven to be a valuable opportunity to meet with my counterparts from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York, to discuss issues facing the industry throughout our region. This has also included valuable input and participation from our federal partners at USDA and the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
This year’s meeting covered a variety of topics including the emergence of industrial hemp, collaboration on animal health responses, and management of noxious weeds. As always, the main focus of the meeting was our joint responsibility to protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
I want to thank my colleagues who were able to make the trip to Annapolis and those who joined remotely. This open dialogue and spirit of collaboration has been incredibly helpful to our agency, and we look forward to continuing these partnerships. See you at next year’s meeting!
March 30, 2019
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
Spring is officially here—the sun stays out a little later, the weather is a little warmer, and the Orioles have finally taken the field. More importantly, this is the time of year when farmers across the region begin planting their crops and preparing for the growing season. This is an exciting time on the farm, though I know many of us are a little anxious and hoping that Mother Nature shows some mercy after a historically wet 2018.
Here at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, we have been busy preparing for the season in a number of ways. This includes gearing up for invasive plant and pest surveys; providing technical assistance to farmers at soil conservation districts; and continuing our efforts to build new markets for Maryland products.
We are also making an effort to increase public understanding of what we do and how we do it.
Celebrating Maryland Agriculture
Governor Larry Hogan declared March 10-16, “Maryland Agricultural Week” —an annual celebration that coincides with National Agriculture Day (March 14). This is great opportunity to recognize the hard work our farmers do each day to provide food and fiber for people throughout the region and internationally. I celebrated National Ag Day by speaking with two very important groups: students and state legislators.
I started my morning in Annapolis with Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus to brief them on the state of our industry. I always appreciate the opportunity to meet with our lawmakers and provide a broader understanding of Maryland agriculture, and how their votes in Annapolis affect farmers across the state. This has become especially important this year, as we have many new faces in the Maryland General Assembly.
I spent the rest of the day in Caroline County where my staff and I visited with students at Immanuel Lutheran Nursery School and Federalsburg Elementary School. These students will play a critical role in the future of agriculture. We talked about where their food comes from, and read this year’s Ag Literacy Campaign book, Right This Very Minute. As younger generations are further removed from the farm, it is crucial to educate them on the incredible effort it takes by farmers and producers to feed our state.
Sharing the Road
Road safety is an issue that has affected nearly every farmer I know—especially those of us who farm in more populated areas of the state. Our department partnered with State Highway Administration and Maryland Farm Bureau last fall to raise awareness of this issue during harvest season. This is equally important during planting season.
Farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on public roadways and there are times when farm vehicles must operate on highways to move between farm and field. We plan to distribute a press release and social media campaign in the coming weeks reminding motorists to be patient and share the road. I understand slow-moving farm equipment can be frustrating to other motorists, but it is important that we all practice caution and stay alert on shared roadways.
“Manure Happens” Campaign
This is also the time of year that people will begin to see—and smell—manure being applied to fields. Earlier this month, we launched our annual “Manure Happens” ad campaign. Marylanders are passionate about where their food comes from and how it is produced. This campaign helps everyone understand why farmers use manure as a crop fertilizer and the practices they follow to protect the health of nearby waterways.
The 2019 campaign includes three ads with different themes. The “Walk This Way” ad focuses on how the organic matter in chicken manure helps the soil store nutrients and ward off erosion. The “Singing the Praises of Manure” ad focuses on the soil health benefits of livestock manure. In addition, the campaign’s namesake ad, “Manure Happens,” has been updated with new imagery. To see all of the department’s manure education ads developed over the years, visit mda.maryland.gov/manure.
March 2, 2019
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
February tends to be a slow month on the farm, but it is always a busy one for us here in Annapolis. Over the past several weeks, I have been meeting one-on-one with legislators and briefing different committees and delegations on the state of Maryland agriculture. While this has been helpful, I cannot stress how important it is for our lawmakers to here directly from our farmers. If there is a bill that could affect your farm or your community, I urge you to come testify and make sure that your voices are being heard.
With that said, I’d like to give a quick update on our department’s legislative priorities.
- HB 50 – Maryland Produce Safety Program: This legislation would establish the Maryland Produce Safety Program in the Department of Agriculture and give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to conduct inspection, compliance and enforcement activities for the Produce Safety Rule instead of FDA. As MDA is familiar with Maryland farmers, agricultural practices, agricultural water sources, nutrient management and other relevant state regulations, we are better equipped to assist farmers with compliance while taking into account other state regulations. The legislation does not contain any provisions that would place an additional burden on Maryland farmers.
- SB 25 – Conservation Easements, Covenants, Restrictions and Conditions – Recording Notice: This would allow Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) and other state agencies to periodically update land records to evidence the state’s interest in properties encumbered by the state with a conservation or preservation easement. Public notices of older easements are sometimes not included in title searches. This bill would give MALPF and similar programs the ability to maintain those records, ensuring that prospective purchasers are able to make an informed decision.
- SB 56 – Regulation of Poultry to Protect Animal Health and Control Avian Influenza: In an effort to maximize our efforts against avian influenza, this bill would give our department the authority to regulate new and emerging poultry markets. This includes swap meets, flea markets and internet sales. This is a necessary step in making sure that we continue to safeguard our poultry industry from infectious disease.
- SB 57 – County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs: This is essentially a clean-up bill that will make changes to the current MALPF statute to be consistent with the provisions of HB 620, which passed into law in the 2018 session.
- SB 58 – Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation – Elimination of District Agreements: Another clean-up bill that will delete obsolete references to “agricultural districts” associated with an agricultural land preservation process that was phased out in 2007.
The department has also offered support to House Bill 808 – Weed Control – Noxious Weeds. This bill would amend the current law to give MDA authority to determine which weeds should be included on the noxious weed list. This is a result of the department’s 2018 Palmer Amaranth Summer Study. Within the last decade, palmer amaranth has become a prolific weed pest that has proven difficult to control. This bill would give MDA more flexibility to address this and other invasive weeds in the future.
The department will post any written testimony and updates on bills throughout the remainder of the legislative session on our website: mda.maryland.gov/about_mda/Pages/2019-Legislation.aspx
November 12, 2018
Published in the November 24, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As we celebrate Thanksgiving and move into the holiday season, I want to take a brief moment to say thank you to all of the Maryland farmers who continue to support the Hogan-Rutherford administration. Our governor has done a great job getting our state back on the right track, and we are all very excited that the people of Maryland have elected to give us four more years to continue changing Maryland for the better. Rural Marylanders were among the first to embrace Governor Hogan as a candidate in 2014, and I can assure that we will always remember that.
Personally, it has been an honor to serve my fellow Maryland farmers as Secretary of Agriculture, and I look forward to continuing in that role for another term. I know it has been a tough year for a lot of us with erratic weather, but I want you to know that our staff at the Maryland Department of Agriculture is here to help in any way we can, and we are all grateful for the hard work you do each and every day to provide food and fiber for us all.
In addition to its effect on crop yields, I know that wet weather has made it difficult for many farmers to get cover crops planted by the program’s planting deadline. In response to that challenge, the department has launched a Healthy Soil Biomass pilot program for farmers who were approved to participate in the 2018-2019 winter cover crop program, but were unable to plant all of their acreage. The pilot program will pay these farmers a flat rate of $45/acre to plant qualifying small grains in leftover, unplanted fields to create a healthy soil biomass and protect water quality in nearby streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
The pilot program works in a similar way to the department’s traditional cover crop program, but it is a separate and distinct program with its own set of rules and requirements. Only farmers who were previously approved to plant cover crops this fall are eligible to participate. These farmers may plant up to 500 acres of qualifying small grains on “leftover fields” that they did not plant in traditional cover crops. Farmers have a choice of planting methods, but only wheat, rye or triticale may be used as the seed source. The planting deadline for the pilot program is December 1. Farmers interested in participating are encouraged to contact their local soil conservation district office.
WIP Workshops Planned for Fall/Winter 2018
Our department has partnered with the Maryland Department of the Environment and University of Maryland’s Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology to host a series of workshops aimed at helping local communities address the third phase of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The series of six workshops began on November 16 and will run through December 6. Each workshop will focus on local goals, opportunities for collaboration, and how to proceed to reach targets in 2025 and beyond.
Each workshop will begin with state and region-specific overviews from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Agriculture before a set of breakout sessions organized by counties. Participants will then reconvene after lunch for a discussion on next steps. All workshops are free to attend and sponsored by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology and funded by the Town Creek Foundation.
For more information on these workshops, visit: https://agresearch.umd.edu/agroecol/fall-watershed-implementation-plan-wip-workshops
October 27, 2018
Published in the October 27, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
When Governor Larry Hogan took office in 2015, he promised Maryland’s agricultural community a seat at the table – and as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture and a lifelong farmer, I am happy to say he has kept that promise. The governor has been a steadfast ally of our rural communities, and we are seeing a renewed sense of optimism among our farmers for the first time in years. Nearly four years in, I want to take a moment to reflect on a few of the ways the administration is making sure that rural Maryland stays open for business.
In this year’s budget, Governor Hogan has provided historic support for a number of agriculture-related initiatives. For the first time since 2007, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) received full funding at $45 million. This is a critical program that allows us to ensure that productive farmland stays in agriculture and out of commercial development. Since 1980, MALPF has preserved 312,666 acres on 2,301 farms in all 23 counties. By June 2018, MALPF managed a public investment of approximately $729 million in permanently preserved land.
The Fiscal Year 2019 budget also includes $6 million for the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund, which funds the Rural Maryland Council. This is double the amount of last year’s funding, and makes Governor Hogan the first governor in Maryland history to fully fund the program. The Rural Maryland Council embraces holistic solutions for rural issues and strives to help communities grow by bringing together stakeholders from agriculture and natural resource-based industries, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and government agencies.
Governor Hogan’s budget also includes $8.5 million for the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) program, which provides grants to farmers for installing best management practices on their farms to prevent soil erosion, manage nutrients, and safeguard water quality in streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. This an increase of $500,000 for a program that has helped our farmers stay viable while protecting our natural resources.
In the past four years, we have made tremendous progress restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and our farmers greatly contribute to that success. Under the Hogan administration, the state has invested a historic $4 billion in Bay restoration initiatives. The Chesapeake Bay recently received its highest recorded grade in the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences annual report card, and Maryland’s coastal bays hit a historic high mark in the 2017 Coastal Bays Report Card from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. When I travel around the country and speak with my counterparts from other states, Maryland farmers are held up as the model for sustainable agriculture practices. Our farmers have really embraced the use of best management practices which has allowed them to make significant progress in reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural production, and the governor has consistently ensured that agriculture has a seat at the table so we can be part of the solution.
Here at the department, we have used our Maryland’s Best marketing program to increase demand and open new markets for Maryland products throughout the region. In addition to supporting local farmers markets and coordinating trade expos, we have made a lot of progress on an international level.
Working with groups like Southern U.S. Trade Association (SUSTA) and U.S. Livestock Genetics Export (USLGE), we have hosted incoming trade missions from several countries—including Canada, China, Korea, and Sweden—that have showcased the state’s watermelon, nursery, craft beverage, and equine industries.
As a public servant, I have worked with several different administrations, and I can tell you firsthand that none have matched this level of support and commitment to our farmers.
I am deeply proud of the work this administration has done to protect and promote Maryland agriculture, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture welcomes the opportunity to continue our work on behalf of Maryland farmers to ensure that they continue providing locally grown, nutritious food and fiber for all Marylanders.
September 29, 2018
Published in the September 29, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As we move into October, farmers throughout the region are wrapping up peak growing season and preparing for harvest. As I am sure you are aware, this has not been an easy summer on the farm. Dramatic shifts from wet weather to high heats and back to wet weather have made for an exceptionally difficult growing season. This is a fact that I am well aware of as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, and have experienced first-hand as a fresh market produce farmer. I think we can all agree that it will feel good to get this season behind us and look forward to more manageable conditions in the future.
As we move into harvest season, our department has partnered with the State Highway Administration and Maryland Farm Bureau to educate drivers to expect farm equipment on rural routes, and to approach these vehicles with caution. This will include the use of electronic message signs positioned along roads throughout the state in addition to public outreach.
Harvest season is a busy time for those of us farm community. However, I encourage you all to take a moment to reflect and celebrate all of the hard work we do each and every day to provide food, fuel and fiber for people throughout the region and beyond.
One of the ways we celebrate this in Maryland is with the annual Homegrown School Lunch Week. This year, school systems across the state celebrated by featuring various locally produced ingredients in their cafeteria lunches for the week of September 24-28. I was lucky enough to visit a few of those events.
On September 20, I visited Eldersburg Elementary School in Carroll County for the official Homegrown School Lunch Week kickoff event. Students led federal, state and local officials on a tour of activities that included a presentation on dairy farming; FFA high school student-run stations including making butter in a jar, and tasting apples from Baugher’s Orchards; and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s “Maryland Ag Products” mobile science lab.
After the tour, we joined students in the school cafeteria to enjoy a lunch that featured local products. The menu included roasted potatoes from Wilke’s Family Farms in Hampstead; fresh melons, peppers and tomatoes from Deep Run Farms in Hampstead; apples, plums and peaches from Baugher’s Orchards in Westminster; cucumbers from Miller Farms in Clinton; and local milk from Dairy Maid Dairy in Frederick.
To cap-off the weeklong celebration, Caroline County Public Schools hosted a “Maryland Farm to Tray” event at Federalsburg Elementary School on September 28. Culinary students provided Maryland vegetable crab soup with crabmeat donated by J.M. Clayton Seafood Company in Cambridge. Caroline County also became the first school system in the state to add blue catfish to its menu with the Caroline Blue Catfish Taco. This dish was created by the county’s culinary students and showcased at the 2018 Governor’s Buy Local Cookout. The event also featured an oyster shucking and spat demo by Phillips Wharf Center.
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 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 percent purchase vegetables, 100 percent purchase Maryland fruits, 59 percent milk and 22 percent meat or poultry. Moreover, 52 percent of those schools indicated an interest in increasing local food purchases in the future.
For more information about Homegrown School Lunch Week and 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 25, 2018
Published in the August 25, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As this year’s unusually wet growing season comes to an end, I am excited to join all of my fellow farmers and agricultural professionals as we showcase the best of Maryland agriculture at the 137th Annual Maryland State Fair. It truly is the “11 Best Days of Summer!”
For a lot of people, the fair is all about the rides and playing games on the midway, or trying some of the delicious food throughout the fairgrounds—for farmers like you and I, this our opportunity to share our passion for agriculture with the general public.
This marks my fourth State Fair as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, and it is a tremendous honor for me to represent the most important industry in our state. The State Fair is a great time for all Marylanders to bring their family out for a fun, educational experience. With each new generation moving further and further away from the farm, our fairs and shows have become a critically important tool in educating our fellow citizens on the important work our farmers do each and every day to provide food and fiber while having a positive impact on our economy, environment, culture and quality of life.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture will return to the Cow Palace this year to showcase the diverse range of services our department provides. This includes nutrient management, agriculture and seafood marketing, animal health, pesticide regulation, plant protection and weed management, apiary inspection, weights and measures, state chemist, mosquito control 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, or spin the Wheel of Knowledge and win prizes for answering questions about Maryland agriculture.
Another important part of our department’s presence at the State Fair is the Maryland Horse Industry Board. They will return to the fair with their Horseland exhibit near the racetrack. Stop by to admire the horses or learn all there is to know about riding, racing, breeding and more.
There are a number of other ag-related attractions to visit, as well, including exhibits from Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, University of Maryland Extension, Maryland Farm Bureau, 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
Fairs and shows are particularly important to the families and young people who participate in 4-H and FFA. It takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to raise and show the chickens, sheep, pigs, and cows that we see at the fair each year. Thanks to the lessons learned from these programs, many of these young farmers will go on to be the future leaders of our industry.
There is plenty of fun to be had in the Cow Palace and Farm and Garden Building at this year’s Maryland State Fair. I hope you all get a chance to check out the different attractions and learn something new.
For more information, visit www.marylandstate.fair.com.
See you at the Fair!
July 28, 2018
Published in the July 28, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
It’s that time of year, again—time for all Marylanders to join us in celebrating our state’s agriculture and seafood industries! Governor Larry Hogan declared July 21-29 as “Maryland Buy Local Week,” which challenges all Marylanders to include at least one local product in each of their meals throughout the week. In a couple weeks, we will be celebrating Maryland Farmers Market Week, which encourages everyone to visit one of more than 145 farmers markets across the state.
This is my fourth year as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, and it never ceases to amaze me how diverse our industry is here. We have beautiful orchards and dairy farms in the west, and a variety of fresh-market produce operations and poultry farms to the east. Just last week, we joined Governor Hogan for his annual Buy Local Cookout, which featured everything from blue catfish to pork belly to good old-fashioned hamburgers—all locally grown or harvested. It is a real testament to the variety of fresh, quality products grown and produced right here in Maryland.
Each year, we compile all the recipes submitted for the Governor’s cookout in our Buy Local Cookout cookbook. You can download your own copy from our website! Each recipe includes a local beer, wine, or spirit pairing recommendation from the Maryland Wineries Association, Brewers Association of Maryland, and the Maryland Distillers Guild.
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 and Farmers Market Week give them an opportunity to do just that.
Ask for Maryland-grown or harvested 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 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.
Federal Disaster Designation
As most of you are aware, we had a very wet start to our growing season—and we are in the middle of another very wet weather pattern right now. I am happy to announce that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has granted Governor Hogan’s request for federal relief, and has provided a disaster designation to farmers in four main counties (Dorchester, Frederick, Somerset, Wicomico) and contiguous counties—which includes an additional seven counties in Maryland (Caroline, Carroll, Howard, Montgomery, Talbot, Washington, Worcester), two in Pennsylvania (Adams, Franklin), two in Virginia (Accomack, Loudon), and one in Delaware (Sussex).
Farmers who have experienced crop losses are able to apply for emergency loans from USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance. FSA will consider each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses, security available, and repayment ability.
I encourage any farmer affected by recent extreme weather to contact their crop insurance agents and USDA FSA as soon as possible.
June 30, 2018
Published in the June 30, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As I travel across the state and talk with my fellow farmers, one of the most pressing topics seems to be the stress of planning for the future of your farm operations. For most of us, our farms are our legacy. As a fifth generation farmer myself, I certainly understand how important it is to pass that legacy along to our children, grandchildren, and so on.
Many of us are getting to the age where it is time to start thinking about our next steps. We all put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our farms, and it is often hard to imagine giving up any piece of the operation. I have learned that much firsthand.
My family started farming in Baltimore County in the 1840s. My great-grandfather purchased our homestead farm in White Marsh back in 1903. Through the years, development pressures led us to diversify and shift the operation to the Eastern Shore. Over the past few years, I have started the process of handing the farm operations over to my children—it has taken time, patience and, most of all, good planning.
One of the first steps to planning the future of your farm should be to identify who is involved, and how that transition will take place. This is an exercise that should include the entire family, because these plans are bound to have an impact everyone.
It is important to remember the many pieces involved in this transition: finances, farm operations, tax/legal expertise, etc. For that reason, it is important to consult an expert. There are many different firms and consultants that offer specialized assistance with farm transition planning. This helps navigate the many unexpected issues that can arise throughout the process.
For instance, while federal tax code helps reduce farmers’ income taxes, it can create an unexpected, unpleasant spike in taxable income when a farmer decides to retire. This is where working with an expert is critical. Professional transition planners can help you identify ways to lessen that burden and keep it from hindering the future of the operation.
Another important piece to consider is land preservation. In Maryland, there are multiple programs at the state level that incentivize landowners to keep their land out of development. The Department of Natural Resources has the Maryland Rural Legacy and Maryland Environmental Trust programs. At the Department of Agriculture, we have the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF).
MALPF purchases agricultural preservation easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland, and was one of the first programs of its kind in the United States. This has allowed us to keep more than 400,000 acres of productive land in agriculture, and out of development. If your operation is in area susceptible to development, I suggest you consider one of these preservation programs as an option.
Succession planning is a tough process full of potential challenges and missteps. A recent study showed that 70 percent of farming operations are not successfully passed down to the next generation. Luckily, there are many resources available to help us turn that trend around. I urge all of my fellow farmers to meet with a professional transition planner and do all you can to ensure your farm has a bright and profitable future for generations to come.
May 26, 2018
Published in the May 25, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As the school year draws to a close across the region, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the state of agriculture education in Maryland. While so much of modern education tends to focus on technology, I think we are missing an opportunity to establish a link between these exciting emerging fields and how they can relate to a career in agriculture. This can include a variety of roles from precision ag engineering to resource conservation specialists. While it is easy to get discouraged by younger generations becoming further removed from the farm, a couple recent experiences have left me with a renewed optimism for future generations of Maryland farmers.
In the past month, I have had the privilege to visit two very different schools in two very different parts of our state. The one thing these schools have in common is an incredible group of young people with a passion for agricultural science and conservation. Both of these schools have energized their students with a newfound interest in what is too often considered an old-school industry.
Green Street Academy
Earlier this month, I joined the Maryland Agricultural Commission for a tour of Green Street Academy, a public charter school in West Baltimore. This school accepts students from across the city and provides valuable educational resources that have become far too scarce in many of the city’s public schools.
We were greeted by a group of students and teachers from the school’s urban agriculture and conservation program. From the very start of our visit, it was clear that these students have a great sense of pride in what they have accomplished, and deservedly so. We saw projects that used original coding to control the climate of an indoor grow room, an aquaculture project where students raised tilapia, multiple greenhouse projects, a chicken coop where students collected and studied eggs, and a trailer full of vertical grow towers that have become a staple of urban agriculture operations.
The students talked about a variety of issues affecting agriculture, including resource conservation and the importance of being good stewards of the environment. One student linked his passion for agriculture to growing up in a food desert, and wanting to find new ways to provide fresh, nutritious foods to underserved communities.
West Baltimore may not seem like a hotbed for agriculture education, but as I learned from the students at Green Street Academy—and through past interactions with other schools in the area—that perception has a lot more to do with a lack of opportunity than a lack of interest from the students.
Hancock High School
Last month, I was invited to Washington County to visit with students at Hancock High School. When I arrived, I was impressed to learn that more than half of the student body participates in the school’s agriculture program. Much like the students I met in Baltimore, these young people spoke with a genuine passion and curiosity for agriculture that felt contagious. A lot of that can be credited to their teacher, Tom Mazzone.
In just four years, Mr. Mazzone has essentially built the school’s robust agriculture program from scratch. He has tapped a number of resources and obtained grants to create a curriculum that mixes academic study with invaluable hands-on experience. I was treated to a presentation that showed students making apple cider, raising chickens, and building chicken coops and handicap-accessible planters. Any money made from the school’s projects goes right back into the program.
For the latter half of the visit, I helped Mr. Mazzone present 4-H awards and recognition to several students in his class. I also had a chance to speak with the class about what they have learned from the program and their plans for the future. Not all of them plan to pursue a career in agriculture, but each one expressed how much they value the ag program and plan to apply the knowledge they have gained in the future.
Despite the drastically different circumstances, these two schools are great examples of what happens when we give students the tools to learn more about our industry. I am grateful to organizations like the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation and many others who are working to bring more of these opportunities to schools across the state. If the students and teachers of Green Street Academy and Hancock High School are any indication, the future is bright for Maryland agriculture.
April 28, 2018
Published in the April 28, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
In my role as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, I have made it a priority to collaborate with my counterparts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to address issues that affect farmers throughout the region. One of the ways I have done that is by hosting the annual Mid-Atlantic State Agriculture Secretaries and Commissioners meeting, which has coincided with our celebration of Earth Day the past four years.
This year’s meeting included leadership from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania departments of agriculture, as well as EPA Region 3 and NASDA. We also had the distinct privilege of welcoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for the afternoon portion of the meeting. It was a very productive day with discussions on everything from labor issues to soil health.
Of course, the overall theme of this meeting has historically been about protecting the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient pollution. It was great to have EPA Region 3 administrator Cosmo Servidio with us to discuss our progress toward reducing agriculture’s impact on nitrous and phosphorus loads in the watershed. We also touched on a variety of related topics including Maryland’s push for healthy soils and our manure transport program.
One major focus of the meeting was the hardships facing our dairy farmers. It is no secret that the dairy industry in our region has been struggling with historically low prices since 2014. Without much relief in sight, my counterparts and I presented Secretary Perdue with a letter requesting that he use his secretarial authority under Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 612c) to provide some much-needed support for an industry that once thrived in this part of the country.
We believe it is important to use every available federal resource to help our dairy farmers and the rural communities that depend on a healthy dairy industry. One of the ideas we proposed was offering financial assistance through the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act. This could help ensure that farmers throughout the region are able to bridge the gap until other policy and/or market factors stabilize. I am confident that Secretary Perdue understands just how much this would mean to our farmers, and I look forward to working with him on this important issue.
Another area of concern was the emergence of the Spotted Lanternfly. Though we have not yet discovered this destructive insect in Maryland, it has spread widely throughout Pennsylvania, with sightings reported in Delaware and Virginia, as well. As our neighbors to the north have learned, this non-native invasive pest poses a major threat to our industry, especially grape growers and orchards. USDA has provided $17.5 million of emergency funding for the region to use for eradication, outreach, and monitoring. Here at MDA, we have created a website dedicated to the issue: mda.maryland.gov/spottedlanternfly. Marylanders are encouraged to submit a photo of a possible sighting to DontBug.MD@maryland.gov.
Our visit with Secretary Perdue also provided a great opportunity to discuss the upcoming Farm Bill and priorities for the region and our individual states. There is sense of optimism that the bill will pass Congress and be submitted to the President before the October 1 deadline.
I would like to thank my colleagues, Secretary Michael Scuse of Delaware, Acting Commissioner Charles Green of Virginia, and Deputy Secretary Greg Hostetter of Pennsylvania for making the trip to Annapolis. This meeting has been a great way for us to collaborate and share lessons learned throughout the years. I look forward to more of these meetings in the coming years.
March 24, 2018
Published in the March 24, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
2018 is turning out to be the year for Agricultural Land Preservation in Maryland!
Only a few weeks remain in this year’s legislative session and it is turning out to be a good year for our agriculture community. The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) program is undergoing substantial changes with a focus on keeping working farms in production while accommodating for changes in the industry and the increased need for diversification. The Foundation has easements on more than 2,200 properties, covering over 304,000 acres statewide at a public investment of nearly $700 million.
Let’s start with the really good news for MALPF this session: For the first time since 2007, Governor Larry Hogan has included full funding for MALPF ($45 million) in this year’s state budget. The budget also includes historic funding for the department’s cost-share program, which is critically important to our progress in protecting the Chesapeake Bay. This year’s budget is just another example of the governor’s ongoing support for our agricultural and rural communities.
The MALPF program will also be eligible to apply for federal matching funds with the passage of Senate Bill 885- Condemnation of Land Under Easement. This bill will bring MALPF in line with the industry standard of compensation for condemned properties, and expands the potential to receive additional funding for preservation easement acquisitions.
Three more bills are making their way through the legislative process that will have a positive impact for the MALPF program:
- SB 571/HB 1229 –Use of Land – Signs and Outdoor Advertising Displays– Would allow easement holders to place certain signs on their property, including no trespassing signs.
- SB 1140-Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation- Lot Release– Would allow MALPF to include stepchildren as eligible recipients of child lots. This is a sensible update to the program which would view stepchildren as children of the landowner who originally sold the easement.
· HB 1351- Agriculture – Easements – Special Occasion Events- Would allow landowners to use up to two acres of land on their property for special occasion events for commercial purposes. The MALPF board of directors must approve the event and the easement has to be enrolled in the MALPF program for more than 10 years.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture worked closely on all of these bills with a number of agricultural stakeholders and elected officials. It is important we continue to push for agricultural land preservation and state cost-share programs that provide our farmers with the resources they need to maintain viable farm operations.
Celebrating Maryland Agriculture
As we wrap up Maryland Agriculture Week (March 18-24), I wanted to take a moment to thank all of our farm families for their continued commitment to our industry and our rural communities. As generations of Marylanders become further removed from the farm, it is critical for all of us to spread the word about the great things our Maryland farmers are doing to provide food and fiber while helping protect our natural resources.
When I travel across the country and meet folks from other states, I have found that Maryland is often looked to as a blueprint for sustainable farming practices. Our state has led the way in on-farm conservation efforts and it is starting to pay off. Bay health is steadily improving, and that is due in part to the efforts of our farmers who plant cover crops during the winter and employ a variety of best management practices on their farms year-round.
Agriculture is a huge part of our everyday lives that is sometimes taken for granted. I want you to know, on behalf of the Hogan-Rutherford administration, we appreciate all that you do to provide fresh, safe and affordable food to people throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond!
February 17, 2018
Published in the February 17, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
When Governor Hogan took office in 2015, he promised Maryland’s agricultural community a seat at the table – and he has kept that promise. The governor has been a steadfast ally of our rural communities, and we are seeing a renewed sense of optimism amongst our farmers for the first time in years.
Recently, there has been some unfortunate misinformation spread about the Maryland Farms and Families Act that has sought to call into question the Hogan’s administration commitment to Maryland’s farming community. As secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture and a lifelong farmer, I can affirm that our administration is 100 percent committed to this vital community, and would like to clarify some misconceptions about this program.
Feeding Maryland’s hungry and supporting our farmers are certainly two worthy causes that any Marylander would support. The Farms and Families Act was passed by the General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session, creating a program that would match every dollar of federal nutrition benefits spent at farmers markets. While this is an innovative concept on its face, there are a number of factors that must be considered before state funding is allocated to the program.
Currently, the Maryland Department of Agriculture already has federal funding and resources dedicated to programs that help low-income families buy fresh food at farmers markets, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Last year, WIC recipients used just 43 percent of the 130,000 checks issued by the program. It is our responsibility to make sure we are using all available funds before we dedicate additional funds to a supplemental, and potentially duplicative, program.
Additionally, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and in a manner that will do the most good for the greatest number of Marylanders. The Maryland Farmers Market Association has asked for $500,000 to fund the Farms and Families Act – 30 percent of which would go to salaries and administrative overhead. This is a significant amount of taxpayer money that would not go directly to farmers or needy citizens, particularly given this program duplicates existing programs and that the funds available through these programs are not being fully utilized.
Another mischaracterization is that the decision not to fund this program harms Maryland farmers. This again fails to acknowledge existing, duplicative programs. Last year, the Farmers Market Nutrition Program paid nearly half a million dollars to farmers who provided food to low-income families.
Governor Hogan has provided historic support for our farm families in his current budget proposal. The governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget includes $6 million for the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund, which funds the Rural Maryland Council. This year’s funding is double the amount of last year, and would make Governor Hogan the first governor in Maryland history to fully fund this critical program. The Rural Maryland Council embraces holistic solutions for rural issues and strives to help communities grow by bringing together stakeholders from agriculture and natural resource-based industries, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and government agencies. This includes numerous initiatives that help farmers and low-income families.
Governor Hogan has also included $8.5 million in his budget proposal for the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) program, which provides grants to farmers for installing best management practices on their farms to prevent soil erosion, manage nutrients and safeguard water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. This an increase of $500,000 for a program that has helped our farmers stay viable while protecting our natural resources.
While the Maryland Farms and Families Act was passed with good intentions, we need to find a better way to fully utilize funding that already exists for programs that accomplish the same goal. Maximizing available resources is ultimately in the best interest of our farmers, our needy families, and our taxpayers.
I am very proud of the work this administration has done to protect and promote Maryland agriculture, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture welcomes the opportunity to work together with all stakeholders to achieve our shared goal of providing locally grown, nutritious food for all Marylanders.