DAVIDSONVILLE, Md. — The new Maryland Farm Bureau executive director is wasting no time.
John Torres, who graduated from Ohio State University in 2005 after studying ag business and applied economics, brings a wealth of Farm Bureau as well as private sector experience to his new role.
Torres also brings plenty of energy, enthusiasm and optimism to his new job, serving the approximately 16,000 members of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Torres began his new position on July 8 after working as a commodities trader, working for the Ohio Farm Bureau where he managed four county Farm Bureaus, working for the Ohio Wheat and Corn Growers Association and serving as director of leadership development for the American Farm Bureau.
He plans to focus on five key areas identified by the Farm Bureau: membership, leadership, financial stability, outreach and government relations.
He calls membership the lifeblood of the Farm Bureau and said that people don’t have to be tied to farming to support the Farm Bureau and its goals. He said there is great interest among non-farmers in preservation of the state’s historical open space and rural character, although it’s easy to lose that feeling amid the urban sprawl of Annapolis and Washington, DC.
He said many people he speaks with remember that more rural history from their youth fondly.
“It’s my Maryland, where I’m from. People still want to see that,” Torres said.
He said the Farm Bureau is well-respected and financially sound, two key pillars upon which it can continue to grow. It is also considered non-partisan and has a good working relationship with Gov. Larry Hogan, he said.
Torres believes that Ohio and Maryland have more in common than you might think. Both have long flat stretches where the corn seems to go on for miles. Both grow similar types of crops and both areas tend to look alike, at least until you reach the mountains of western Maryland.
The Chesapeake Bay can sometimes seem to put local farmers in the environmental crosshairs nationally because of water quality issues. But Torres said that’s also not completely unique because Ohio has to be concerned with the water quality of Lake Erie.
“Although Lake Erie doesn’t grow crabs very well,” he joked.
It never seemed to stop raining in Maryland and Delaware last year, but that’s also familiar. When he left Ohio last month, he said Lake Erie was 33 inches above its normal water level and many fields were simply so wet that they had never been planted.
Growing leadership remains a key challenge for farm groups like the Maryland Farm Bureau. Torres wants to help find ways “to grow their voice, to grow their influence,” he said.
Government advocacy is another key challenge, which means working with and educating legislators. Although states like Maryland and Delaware are often supportive of farming, farmers also regularly complain they have to battle against what they see as unfair regulation and misinformation.
He’s very supportive of increasing rural broadband access in Maryland. He compares it to efforts a generation ago to increase rural electrification in order to give farmers access to the tools and information they need in order to do their job.
Much of his focus is simply on outreach in order to educate people, raise awareness, form partnerships and work with the community.
“You win with people,” Torres said, sharing a philosophy he attributes to legendary college coaches Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight.
“You have to tell your stories. You have to be at the table,” he said.
He said that people need to hear those farming stories and share those lives, so that friends, neighbors and communities can help to celebrate their success and feel their struggles.
“Discussion has to happen at the community level,” Torres said. “We need to be involved in our communities.”