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October 30, 2003

Regulatory Issues Highlight Farm Forum

Al Duke

Delegate Paul Stull and County Commissioner Mike Cady co-sponsored a Farm Forum at Libertytown Fire Hall on Saturday, October 25.

The catalyst for the forum was Planning Commissioner Fern Hines, who asked Mr. Cady what he had done for farmers since he was elected. His response was, “Nothing.” And then he called Delegate Stull.

There were a number of challenges that came out of this meeting.

State and county laws and regulations were a common theme across the agenda.

John Fieseler, Frederick County Tourism Director, noted that many years ago, Maryland and Virginia both had about eight or ten wineries. Today Maryland has 12 and Virginia has 75. A lot of this can be tied to Maryland’s strict laws on the shipment of alcoholic beverages.

Another challenge was posed by Don Easterday, well-known for his preservation efforts in Frederick County. He observed that we are losing our old bank barns, so called because an embankment is used to reach the second story of the barn. Bank barns have been in use for more than 2,000 years. In Frederick County, if you want to change the use of your barn, you have to meet several land use regulations. New Hampshire has a plan that allows reuse of old barns and provides tax relief for preserving them.

Minnesota and Iowa have very strong agricultural diversity laws. Some of the things that are permitted under those laws, and that local farmers might be able to use to improve their income, are not permitted in the Frederick County Comprehensive Plan and in the Zoning Ordinance.

Several people addressed nutrient management. This program has been around for many years, though only mandatory since 1998.

Some concepts that are being investigated as possible changes to the program include changing the reporting period to the end of the year vice the beginning of the year. It is much more effective to be able to describe the weather and other problems faced by a farmer, and the solutions decided upon, at the end of the season than to try to predict what might happen and then make changes to the plan throughout the year. The generation of paperwork in this program is enormous, and farmers prefer farming to filling out government forms.

Deer management was also one of the forum’s topics. One of the things that I learned from this discussion is that while deer reproduction potential in agricultural areas is good, in urban areas, their reproduction potential is excellent. In urban areas they have a reduced mortality and a better habitat.

There are a number of reasons for deer management: vehicle collisions, crop damage, and Lyme disease, of which some deer are carriers. There are some methods of non-lethal management, such as contraception techniques, but the reality is that you cannot manage deer well without lethal means, according to George Timko, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Several farmers very strongly identified bureaucratic and regulatory problems with managing the damage to their crops.

Agricultural preservation was also discussed. Former County Commissioner Richard Grossnickle observed that the goal of the state in this program is to preserve the best farmland.

Sometimes, however, the program tends to preserve those farms that provide the best (lowest) bids to the state. The point was made by James Conrad, from the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Preservation Program, that funding is an issue these days, considering the state’s current financial problems.

Frederick County has a good program for agricultural land preservation, which Tim Blaser, the County’s Agricultural Preservation administrator described.

The Citizens Zoning Review Committee’s report to the Board of County Commissioners was discussed. Chuck Fry, President of the Frederick County Farm Bureau, and CZRC member, observed that the committee had wrangled over agricultural clusters and large lot development and had come up with some solutions that may not be all that the farmers wanted but were fair all around. The CZRC report is now being reviewed by the county commissioners.

So there is a lot to do. There are state laws that need to be reviewed in the areas of nutrient management. Funding needs to be found so that agricultural preservation goals can be met. Bureaucratic entanglements must be cleared up; government employees work for the people and need to be proactively helpful in difficult situations.

At the county level, we need to prepare to look at changes to the Comprehensive and Regional Plans so that diversity in agriculture can be better achieved. The zoning law that is now being written should take this into consideration as well.

Fern Hines summed it up as only a farmer can. “In Frederick County, farmers will either get bigger, diversify, or go out of business.” Where do we go from here?

Both Mr. Stull and Mr. Cady are committed to hold future forums on at least an annual basis, but probably at a different time of year.

Also, Mr. Cady said the biggest problem he has with the forum format was too much Information and too little time for participation. Both issues will be addressed in a wrap up session to be held within the next month by the organizing committee.

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