ANNAPOLIS — Members of the Carroll County Farm Bureau descended upon Annapolis Wednesday to meet with lobbyists and lawmakers regarding agriculturally focused legislation at the Maryland Farm Bureau’s legislative breakfast.
“It’s a chance to know what’s going on and to talk to our legislators,” said Joe Kuhn, who owns a farm in Woodbine and once served as president of the county Farm Bureau.
This year, Maryland Farm Bureau lobbyists discussed bills the organization supports: a ban on plant-based beverages labeled as milk, a Maryland Department of Agriculture-sponsored produce safety program, implementing agricultural education in public schools, among other pieces of legislation.
And the lone bill the organization opposes: a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos, which is a chemical used in insecticides and seeds.
The farmers feel that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency approved certain products for farm use, the state shouldn’t ban them, said Jason Myers, director of Maryland Farm Bureau District 2, which includes Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties.
“Every time they legislate something like that, it ends up costing farmers money,” Myers said.
Kuhn added that the bureau has fought hard in years past to prevent the ban of different seed treatments.
“We’d appreciate any help we can get keeping our available sprays,” Kuhn told Sen. Katie Fry Hester, D-District 9, which encompasses Carroll and Howard counties.
Hester, a freshman senator, dropped by the Carroll table to introduce herself to local farmers and to discuss an agriculture bill she soon plans to introduce.
Hester’s bill, entitled Maryland Food for Maryland Institutions, aims to create a task force that would study ways to “grow and strengthen Maryland’s local food system” by creating sturdy markets for local farm products, according to an informational document Hester distributed.
She said she hopes state hospitals, jails and schools could use locally grown food.
“By creating reliable markets, the state can incentivize and support private investment in on-farm and aggregation infrastructure necessary for institutional procurement,” the document details. State money would immediately support farmers, but connecting farmers with institutions would be a long-term benefit, according to the document.
“Anything to promote our farm product is a good thing,” said Bill Rasche, who owns a large farm near Taneytown and also served as Carroll County Farm Bureau president in the past.
Colby Ferguson, government relations director for the Maryland Farm Bureau, briefed members on coming legislation, along with broader initiatives the bureau was pushing back on, including an expected push for the state to boost its renewable energy portfolio to 50 percent.
“Overachievers are trying to go to 50 percent before we even get to 25 [percent],” Ferguson told the crowd of farmers.
That could be bad for farmers because solar farms could come in and swoop up prime agricultural land, Ferguson said. “We believe it will be very detrimental.”
Del. April Rose, R-District 5, Carroll County, said she supports solar energy, but that preserving farmland must remain a priority.
“Just because you call something a farm, doesn’t mean it’s a farm — it’s not Ag,” she said, referring to solar farms.
Rose’s District 5 Republican colleague, Del. Haven Shoemaker, dropped by the breakfast to discuss the bill he sponsored that would encourage local school boards to adopt Certified Ag Education programs.
A certified agriculture education program prepares students for careers in and informed choices relating to the global agriculture industry, and for employment and higher education by developing science, math, technology and communication skills, Shoemaker’s bill detailed.
“It would be no different than taking English, or Algebra 2,” Ferguson told farmers earlier.