A Harford County farmer who has worked to ensure his descendants and the descendants of other local farmers carry on the practice has been named the 2013 Farmer of the Year by the members of the Harford County Farm Bureau.
Ross E. Smith Jr., 80, accepted the award Saturday during the Farm Bureau's 91st Annual Meeting & Banquet, held at the Level Fire Hall.
"I couldn't stand here if I didn't give thanks to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," Smith told the audience of Farm Bureau members and their families, along with local and state dignitaries.
Smith is the third generation in his family to operate the My Lady's Manor Farm, a dairy operation in Monkton.
He operated the farm until he retired in 1999; his son Robert and daughter-in-law Sam run the farm and their sons Justin and Jarod also work on the farm, making them the fifth generation of Smiths to be farmers.
Smith remains active on the farm, with a garden that has produced prize-winning vegetables, and a smokehouse where he cures and smokes hams.
He accepted the award with his "dear wife" Jeanette of 58 years standing at his side, along with his son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Sam, and grandsons Jarod and his wife Katie, and Justin and his girlfriend Kim Heaps.
"She's always been by my side," Smith said of his wife. "And children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and my daughter-in-law and son-in-law."
Smith is the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, and is the son of Ross Smith Sr. and Minna Smith.
"All but one son farmed, and all but one daughter married farmers," Farm Bureau President Jay Rickey said, reading from prepared remarks while introducing Smith.
Smith's late father was named Farmer of the year in 1980. His brother, Harold "Hap" Smith, who died in September, received the honor in 2004.
Smith and his wife have four children, Ross III, Robert, Lois and Harold II, plus eight grandchildren and one great-grandson, Ross V.
He received proclamations and awards Saturday from the Harford County executive, the County Council, the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates and the Maryland secretary of agriculture.
"It's just incredible, the innovation on the farm and how you're passing that on to the rest of your family and all the farmers in Harford County," County Councilman Chad Shrodes said. "We're so lucky in this great county to have farmers that work so hard and do so much for our community."
County Executive David Craig, who also spoke at the banquet, noted Maryland's state seal features a farmer and a waterman.
"That's because our predecessors and ancestors knew that that farmers and watermen were the people who ran the economy of this state and kept us where we are," Craig said. "We applaud the fact that we have a third and a fifth generation doing this."
Del. Susan McComas presented official congratulations from state Sen. Barry Glassman, who could not attend Saturday's event.
She also presented a Maryland flag to the Smiths.
"Maryland has one of the most historic flags and one of the prettiest flags, and so I hope that you and your family will [display] this on your farm," she said.
Del. Rick Impallaria congratulated Smith for "not only raising great children, but supporting the State of Maryland in all that you do."
Smith spoke briefly after the dignitaries, to recognize Harford County's efforts to preserve agricultural land.
More than 47,000 acres have been preserved through state and county easements in Harford County since 1977, according to the Department of Planning and Zoning's website
"I think everybody in the county ought to really give themselves a hand," Smith said.
The Maryland Farm Bureau, which has chapters in 23 of the state's 24 jurisdictions – Baltimore City does not have a farm bureau – is a nonprofit "membership organization" formed to advocate on behalf of the state's farmers.
Valerie Connelly, the Maryland Farm Bureau's director of government relations, was recently named as the organization's administrator.
She spoke to the Harford Farm Bureau members Saturday.
Connelly urged local farmers to make their voices heard regarding the Maryland Department of Agriculture's proposal to strengthen regulations to prevent phosphorus from leaving the soil on farms, known as the Phosphorus Management Tool.
Phosphorus, a nutrient contained in fertilizer, can get into waterways from the soil; too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water promotes algae growth and lowers the amount of oxygen needed by aquatic plants and animals, according to an Environmental Protection Agency web page.
Farmers often use dairy cow waste or poultry litter as soil fertilizer.
Connelly said Maryland farmers must run a "phosphorus site index" to determine "whether or not there is a likelihood that phosphorus will move in the soil and end up leaving the farm," and then take measures to prevent that.
She said the proposed regulations caused a "crisis" on the Lower Eastern Shore during the summer, as farmers were not willing to take poultry litter from local chicken houses before the regulations took effect Sept. 1.
The regulations have been withdrawn, and the public can comment through this coming Monday, Nov. 18. A hearing will take place at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 in Annapolis.
Connelly encouraged audience members to visit mdfarmbureau.com for more information and to submit comments.