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Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, warns farmers to hold on to their wallets as the Kirwan Commission recommendations come down the pipeline. Shoemaker was among several state legislators who spoke at the Carroll County Farm Bureau legislative dinner Jan. 6, 2020 at the Carroll County Agricultural Center.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, warns farmers to hold on to their wallets as the Kirwan Commission recommendations come down the pipeline. Shoemaker was among several state legislators who spoke at the Carroll County Farm Bureau legislative dinner Jan. 6, 2020 at the Carroll County Agricultural Center. (Mary Grace Keller)

Politicians pledged to fight for what some called the backbone of the county as they gathered at the Carroll County Farm Bureau legislative dinner Monday night alongside local farmers concerned about government regulations they say makes it hard for them to be profitable.

Just two days before the start of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly legislative session, those who work in agriculture joined politicians at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster. Del. Susan Krebs, state Sen. Justin Ready, Del. April Rose, and Del. Haven Shoemaker — all Republicans from District 5 — as well as county Commissioners Richard Weaver, Eric Bouchat and Ed Rothstein, all spoke.

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Bouchat described agriculture as vital to the county’s identity and said organizations like the Farm Bureau “are the backbone of us being successful” as the Board of Commissioners. Rose echoed that, telling the farmers, “You are the backbone of Carroll County.”

Rothstein announced the county is about 25,000 acres away from its goal of preserving 100,000 acres through the agricultural land preservation program. Officially, the number stands at 73,229 acres as of Tuesday, according to program manager Deborah Bowers. “There is no other county that even comes close to what Carroll County is doing in taking care of our agricultural community,” Rothstein said.

Weaver said reaching that 100,000-acre goal is going to be his focus. Additionally, Weaver expressed the need to draw more young people into agriculture.

Weaver, who taught agri-science for many years, said the Board of Commissioners is working with the school system to find a better way to educate children in agriculture at a younger age. He also advised farmers to make their interests known as the county prepares to dive into the agriculture portion of the comprehensive rezoning process.

Those representing Carroll County in Annapolis expressed concern over the Democratic leadership in the legislature, but offered some reasons to be optimistic.

Shoemaker warned farmers to “hold on to your wallets” as Kirwan Commission — officially the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — funding is discussed during the General Assembly.

“They’re going to be scrimping and looking for everything they could possibly look for to fund this thing,” Shoemaker said.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers passed a law funding the commission’s recommendations for three years. This year, they are expected to put funding formulas into law to balance future costs between the state and the counties, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Shoemaker plans to again push his agriculture education bill, which failed to make it through the Senate in 2018 and 2019. House Bill 225 sought to expand agriculture education in schools. It passed in the House unanimously both times, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.

“We have concocted a different strategy for that particular bill this year that, you know, gives us a little bit of optimism that maybe it’ll pass both houses of the legislature this year,” Shoemaker said.

Krebs spoke to the need for constituents to keep their representatives abreast of issues.

Last session, Krebs learned of a bill that she said would have greatly impacted the production of beef, lamb, poultry, dairy, and other agricultural industries. House Bill 492 would have required the Maryland Green Purchasing Committee to publish a list of carbon-intensive foods — foods that emit a high level of greenhouse gas throughout the life of the product — and established best practices to reduce the volume of such foods.

“It was really a shock that this was even a bill,” Krebs said.

Krebs, who serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee where the bill originated, said the bill was “watered down” so it would only affect state procurement units such as state prisons and hospitals. The bill received an unfavorable report from the Health and Government Operations Committee and did not move forward.

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Ready mentioned concerns regarding the Democratic leadership, but offered some positive thoughts on incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson.

“He’s actually a really nice person," Ready said. "He’s very thoughtful. I’ve gotten to know him over the last few years serving in the Senate.”

Ready acknowledged Ferguson’s visits to other districts since being elected, though he hasn’t been to Ready’s District 5 yet, he said.

“He’s been to some of the other rural districts and he is making an effort to really be available, and so I take him at his word, and I appreciate that. But at the same time, there’s no question things are going to change,” Ready said.

Farmers want fewer regulations

After the event, local farmers shared their thoughts on how the decisions made in Annapolis affect their livelihoods.

Jason Myers farms grain and beef in New Windsor. He’s also vice president of Carroll County Farm Bureau. Myers said it’s challenging when the state passes regulations on agriculture that are more stringent than those set at the federal level. Following regulations often costs farmers more money, he said, and Maryland farmers must grapple with the high cost of living and labor that their competitors in other states don’t face.

“Farming in this area is more expensive than it is in the Midwest,” Myers said.

Matt Hoff raises dairy cows in New Windsor. He understands everyone has their part to play in protecting the environment, but said it feels like legislators are putting the burden on the little person, the farmer.

“They want everybody to reduce their pollution but it’s cheaper [for the government] to do it on the farm level,” Hoff said.

Brad Rill of Lippy Brothers in Hampstead produces chickens and grain. He said stringent regulations make it difficult to do business and to compete with others in the market.

“A lot of times it makes it tougher to be more profitable,” Rill said.

Sometimes, he said, it feels like legislation is based on “personal feelings” instead of science.

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Even before today’s regulations came about, Rill said many farmers were taking steps to help the environment.

“Most farmers in our area already do a significant amount of things to be sustainable, to be environmentally friendly,” Rill said. “We want to be sustainable.”

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