Reflecting on Four Years of Progress for Maryland Farmers
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.