Mount Airy agricultural business owners and farmers got the chance to share concerns they have regarding Maryland’s No. 1 industry with the state’s Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder on Monday afternoon.
Rutherford along with Bartenfelder and other representatives from the Department of Agriculture came to the Frederick-Carroll border for tours of both the Willard Agri-Service facility and the Gaver Family Farm.
“Jan. 1 will be our 50th year in business,” Billy Willard told Rutherford and others inside the agri-service facility on Oct. 29. “We have won a number of regional and national awards for environmental stewardship and safety.”
Most recently, according to the agri-service company’s website, it was the 2010 National Winner of the Environmental Respect Award. And the family is “challenging popular opinions that high-yield agriculture and environmental stewardship cannot coexist,” it states.
But aside from sharing his successes with Rutherford, Willard said he really wanted to say, “Thank you.”
“I’d like to, at this time, thank you and the governor for your support of agriculture,” he said. “For a while we didn’t think we were supported. We really appreciate it very much.”
Rutherford began his day at a ribbon cutting at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Frederick and a meeting with substance abuse recovery advocates. He said he is proud to support agriculture, as it is Maryland’s largest industry.
“And the agricultural community takes care of the environment,” the lieutenant governor said. “If they weren’t there you’d have more housing tracks and asphalt. It only comes natural to support agriculture.”
Willard also explained that as ecofriendly efforts ramp up, the field is constantly evolving.
“The amount of plant food and plant nutrition required to grow a bushel of corn has decreased,” said Willard. “We are feeding more often with a smaller amount, and with materials that inhibit leeching. What we put in the ground gets taken into the root real quick.”
His father De Willard, founder of Willard Agri-Services, said the corn yields per acre is still increasing with the implementation of environmentally friendly practices.
“In 1970, when we went into the business, 170 bushels per acre is what you would hope for — but now everyone is hitting 200,” he said.
Excessive rains this year have been trouble across the state, though, Bartenfelder said.
“The average is 200 bushels to the acre,” Bartenfelder said. “This year that average, we had one field that ranges from 60 to 200 in the same field because of the water. That’s something that everyone experienced because of the water.”
Gaver Family Farms
By 3 p.m. Rutherford was in the Gaver Family Farms market surrounded by piles of pumpkins and fresh apples.
“We started farming here when we got married in 1983,” said Lisa Gaver about her and her husband. “He planted his first Christmas trees in 1978 and we started selling them in 1984.”
They added pumpkins shortly after their son Greg started gardening through 4-H, she said.
“We helped him make a display,” Gaver said, “and then one day when he was at school some guy offered me $20 for a pile of pumpkins. When Greg got home and found out, he was really excited about that.”
By 2007 they were selling pumpkins and by 2010 they added apples.
She said the family was excited to have Rutherford visit their family farm that afternoon.
“Any time we can have a working relationship with any of our politicians, we are more than happy to show them a working farm,” she said.
Rutherford chatted with the family and took photos, but he also heard concerns from Catoctin Mountain Orchard Co-Owner Bob Black, about H2-A — or temporary agricultural worker — visas taking a very long time to process through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Agriculture has to be done in a timely manner,” Black told the Times. “Certain things, trimming trees, planting plants, corn — it has to be done, the field work.”
He said the state process is fine, but that the process is slowed by the federal government. The orchard co-owner needs to fill out applications for March workers by November of the year before.
“If no one wants to do it, it doesn’t get done,” he said. “Everybody visits a farm three times day, and people forget that.”
Rutherford asked if any letters had been sent to the governor, and said that he would look into the issue.
“The governor and I support agriculture to the fullest,” he told the Times in an interview. “There are so many benefits the agricultural community brings. It’s our largest industry. From that standpoint, economically, it is our industry we support.
“They are conservers of their property, the land, wildlife,” Rutherford said. “There is a win-win when you support agriculture and the quality of life of small towns.”
Plus, he said, “it’s always fun to come out to the farms. It reminds me of being a kid.”