Increasing Public Understanding of Agriculture
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.