Making Progress for Maryland Agriculture
It has been a busy three months since I joined the Maryland Department of Agriculture to serve our agricultural community. I have kept my nose to the grindstone and we have all been working hard. This month, I will give you an update on some of the latest activities of the department. The 2015 General Assembly was already underway when I started. During this legislative session, we spent a significant amount of time working to defeat several anti-agriculture bills. The most notable were:
- HB 381 / SB 257 – would have turned the Phosphorous Management Tool regulations that were submitted in December into law, rather than regulation.
- HB 605 / SB 163 – would have required labeling for any nursery stock sold at either the retail or wholesale level that is treated with neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, and banned homeowner use of these products.
- HB 928 – would have repealed the current exemption from the sales and use tax for the purchase of inputs for farm operations.
- HB 995 – would have banned the use of lawncare pesticides at child care centers, schools, and on recreations center sand fields used by children under 18.
- SB 463 / HB 701 – would have duplicated FDA regulatory oversight of antibiotic use in animal agriculture and created an unnecessary burden on MDA and Maryland animal producers.
Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative Update
MDA developed proposed Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations, which were published in the April 3 Maryland Register and are open for public comment until May 4. The administration worked with legislative, environmental and agricultural stakeholders to revise and ultimately achieve consensus on the proposed regulations. For more information and the complete history about the regulations, visit www.mda.maryland.gov/PMT.
The PMT regulations are one part of Governor Hogan’s broader Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, which also includes an on-farm economic analysis of the PMT. MDA is now recruiting 10 to 12 farm operations to provide a demonstration of implementation of the PMT, including farm-scale economic and operational implications. Farmers will commit to enroll 100 acres each in the analysis, maintain records and provide information to MDA over a two-year period. The intent is to better understand the issues resulting from the PMT and to enable more informed program development and resource allocation. Farmers who are interested in participating in the analysis should contact Dwight Dotterer, Dwight.Dotterer@maryland.gov or 410-841-5959.
High Path Avian Influenza
A new, deadly strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was detected in the United States in December 2014. HPAI is heading east and has been confirmed in the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi flyways, which are migratory bird paths. As of April 20, it has been found in 54 locations in 13 states, affecting nearly 2.7 billion birds. The disease has been found in wild birds, as well as backyard and commercial poultry flocks.
MDA has started an outreach and education campaign to warn poultry flock owners and feed stores about the new strain. Our Animal Health staff has been working with key state agencies – including the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and relevant federal partners – to help ensure the state has the resources to handle the disease should it arrive here. HPAI poses a particularly significant economic threat to Maryland, especially the Eastern Shore. Although, this strain of bird flu is not currently known to be a threat to humans, flu viruses can mutate. If it does, the threat to public health could be significant. For more information on how to protect your flock, visit: http://mda.maryland.gov/AnimalHealth/Pages/poultry.aspx
Pesticide Use Survey
This month, MDA launched the enhanced Pesticide Use Survey, in cooperation with USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. MDA is encouraging farmers to participate in this voluntary survey, which will provide the department with comprehensive information about what pesticides are being used around the state and what trends are developing. The survey was developed, as recommended by the legislature’s Pesticide Use Work Group, in lieu of an expensive pesticide use database. This is the eighth pesticide use survey MDA has conducted since 1985. Maryland is the only state in the Chesapeake Bay region to comprehensively survey pesticide use. Enhancements over previous surveys include collection of intended use and time of year of application.
Maryland Horse Industry News
In horse-related news, the Maryland Horse Industry Board, a program within MDA that is charged with promoting the horse industry and licensing public stables, launched a statewide network of 35 Horse Discovery Centers in 15 counties in March. These centers are carefully selected, licensed stables that are welcoming people of all ages and experience levels into their barns to learn about horses. The designation is designed to bring new customers into these small businesses. The board also launched the Maryland Horse Chase – a statewide scavenger hunt (April 6 through April 26) that encourages people to visit and patronize horse stables and other equine events. As of April 14, nearly 900 people had visited the www.marylandhorsechase.com website and more than 25 percent filled out a form to play, at least in part.
Agricultural Legal Resources Available
I recently met with the University of Maryland Agricultural Law Education Initiative leaders. We have started working with them to help farmers know about the services, publications and resources available through this program. The Ag Law initiative was created by the General Assembly in 2011 with the goal of preserving Maryland’s family farms; helping their owners address the complicated legal issues associated with agricultural estates and trusts, regulatory compliance, and other public policies that comprise what is known as agriculture law. As an example, this year, MDA working with the University of Maryland and Maryland Farm Bureau, launched a series of webinars for farms operating CSAs to help them develop model contracts and better handle labor and membership issues.
We are certainly working on many more issues as well here at MDA, but this gives you a good idea of the depth and breadth of the work underway. Next month I hope to update you on an exciting branding campaign we are working on to help consumers identify Maryland products in the marketplace. Until then, I hope you have a productive and bountiful planting season.