Elected Officials Get Earful from Md. Farmers

2/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent

NEW MIDWAY, Md. — “I want to hear the true issues today,” said Bobby Rakestraw, chairman of the Frederick County Soil Conservation District. He was of many farmers who came to the New Midway Volunteer Fire Company Feb. 8 for a legislative event featuring local, state and federal elected officials.

The annual event has been held for the last 40 years in Frederick County. It was started by Farm Bureau and recently the Pomona Grange and the Monocacy and Catoctin Soil Conservation Districts added their sponsorship.

“We are pushing over 40 years of these meetings,” said Charles Brault, president of the Frederick County Farm Bureau. “It is an opportunity to get our legislators together with farmers and ag businesses to talk about issues that are important to agriculture.”

The day began with U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who represents the 8th Congressional District, speaking on food safety.

“We need to make sure we have an approach that is not one size fits all. One of the big mistakes we make is trying to apply the same rules and regulations to huge mega-agricultural operations in other parts of the country to the types of agricultural operations we have here. That doesn’t work and I understand that,” Van Hollen said.

On the recently passed Farm Bill, he said the bill doesn’t go far enough to reform subsidies for cotton and sugar.

“Over half the Farm Bill goes to the food nutrition programs which have traditionally been supported by the farmers. But I voted against the 2012 Farm Bill,” he said.

Immigration was another topic he touched on, saying that many farm operations in Frederick County rely on temporary migrant labor.

“As a result of the temporary labor force being regulated by overlapping federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor and the State Department, there is a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability. You can’t bring in your crop if you don’t have the labor,” he said.

Several state legislators also attended the event.

“We have been in Annapolis for about a month now,” said Delegate Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick. “I love to come to this event to report back and get information from them on what is happening. Frederick County, Md., is by far the largest agricultural community in the state of Maryland and I have been hearing about the frustration for the last 3 1/2 years I have been in office. The Farm Bureau has taken a stand against the sale of raw milk and I have supported that stand extensively. That is going to continue to be a big issue and we have been told the chicken tax is not going anywhere.”

Schulz said she’s also concerned about budget issues and the “intense regulations” coming down from the state to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“It is a top issue on all the farmer’s minds. We have to do quite a lot of work in the soil conservation field to come up to the regulations,” she said.

Delegate Patrick Hogan, R-Frederick, said it was a mistake for the state to try to implement the controversial Phosphorus Management Tool as an emergency regulation.

“What we are trying to do is slow it down as there is no reason for this to be an emergency measure,” Hogan said. “Farmers need time to adjust to it. We are trying to attach a study to it to see the economic impacts. We don’t want to put a ridiculous emergency bill on farmers.

“The other big bill is the pesticide reporting bill from last year. It requires more rigorous reporting of pesticide use on produce,” he said.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said reforming the state’s estate tax will help ensure future generations of farmers.

“The best ag preservation policy is to ensure that the family farms can survive financially and whether that is from an operations point of view or an estate tax,” Brinkley said. “The federal estate exemption is $5.36 million and ours is only $1 million. If you have paid the tax on it once, you should be able to pass it on to your children and grandchildren, and now there is a bill that should extend it from $1 million to $2 million” and higher amounts in future years, he said.

“We will take what we can get and we need to encourage the next generation.”

Larry Riggs, a dairy farmer from Union Bridge, said he came to the meeting to get some insight on the Farm Bill.

“I grew up dairy farming and began teaching, but I switched over to dairy farming 30 years ago,” Riggs said. “We are interested in how this waste management stuff is going to go here and I don’t know what is going to happen to this phosphorus program they are going to hit us with. I won’t get some answers, but I will give some input today.”

Rich Calimer, who raises vegetables, produce, beef cattle, grain and hay, said he had a couple of questions regarding workman’s comp insurance in Maryland, but he wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings about regulations.

“I think there is too much regulation everywhere and Maryland is part of that problem,” Calimer said.

Barbara Crum, a dairy farmer from Mt. Pleasant, said she hoped legislators walk away with a better appreciation of the impact the state government is having on farms.

“My manure pit is full and we are not allowed to spread it. And as soon as it gets nice, I have to put fence along my creek for buffers,” Crum said. “I want to let them know we are real people and we are not statistics. It is difficult to see people working hard every day and being regulated by people who don’t know about it. This is our life, it is not a job.”

Members of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners answered questions covering a wide range of local topics from county agriculture personnel issues to deer management, impact fees, storm water management fees and hunting areas.

Deer management and hunting garnered the most attention. Although there were some comments against Sunday hunting in Frederick County, Commissioner Billy Shreve said there would be two more hunting Sundays next year.

“For every Sunday hunting day, 4,000 deer are harvested,” Shreve said.

Commissioner C. Paul Smith talked about the complexities of storm water management in the county.

“There is a difference in how the EPA and the state of Maryland are enforcing the retrofit as it has to do with the clean water requirement and the feasibility requirement,” Smith said. “The EPA can’t enact something that is too expensive or not feasible. It is not true that this is all driven by the EPA. We feel the state of Maryland should be more sensitive to the economic impact of it. It is the MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) storm water regulations that cost us so much money.”


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12/21/2014 | Last Updated: 2:15 PM