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Harford Del. Lauren Arikan: We need to protect Maryland’s farming and rural heritage

A scenic view of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville. "We need to do more to protect our farming industry and to encourage our youth to consider the farm life," Harford Del. Lauren Arikan writes. We’re still not doing enough, she says.
A scenic view of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville. "We need to do more to protect our farming industry and to encourage our youth to consider the farm life," Harford Del. Lauren Arikan writes. We’re still not doing enough, she says. (Matt Button / Aegis staff / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session.

Harford County is a beautiful county to raise a family in and a large part of that is because of our commitment to protecting our agricultural heritage. Agriculture is one of our top industries not only in Harford County, but in Maryland as well.

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Annual agricultural revenue for Harford County is $46 million (2012 census) and for the state $4.7 billion in total output and $2.03 billion in value added. Despite a concerted effort in Maryland, farms continue to close up shop and full-time farming is becoming more and more financially unsustainable, in large part because of increased regulatory burdens.

In 2007 we had more than 12,800 working farms in Maryland; today that number is around 12,300. In other counties, farming acreage has also been impacted by both development and more recently by a federal and state push for allegedly “green energy” in the form of solar panels placed on agricultural land.

As a testament to Harford County’s commitment to our agricultural heritage the county executive and County Council wisely protected Harford County farm land from such uses, other counties in the area would do well to follow suit.

In an effort to keep our dairies above water, Gov. Larry Hogan announced last week that he allocated $17 million in emergency funds for our dairy farmers.

We’re still not doing enough. We need to do more to protect our farming industry and to encourage our youth to consider the farm life.

In Harford County we have more than 395 children involved in 4H and FFA (Future Farmers of America). Each year hundreds of animals are entered into competition at the Harford County Farm Fair. My children are looking forward to their first opportunity to participate in showing their dairy goats this summer. Unfortunately, not everyone in our state and in our country see the incredible value of livestock farming.

There are movements nationwide and within the state of Maryland to ban the transport of animals, preventing our future farmers from even participating in local AG fairs. This is an attack not only on our cultural heritage, but also on the American consumer who wishes to purchase American grown animal products.

Behind the scenes, we often hear about the oppressive activist groups whose main goal is to anthropomorphize all creatures and exact pressure on counties and municipalities to change their laws. They seek to shame Americans and prevent them from not only consuming, but from owning any animals at all.

In July of 2017, 30,000-40,000 minks were released from a pelt farm by an extremist, allegedly to save them. It turned into a massacre when most died in the wild due to excessive heat exposure and no access to food or water.

More recently, Montgomery County passed a county regulation that in the original form would have prevented the transport of animals in the county, effectively killing the incredibly popular Montgomery County Farm Fair.

Its farm fair is the largest in the state and usually brings in 221,647 visitors each year. It would have crushed the farming community and had lasting economic impacts in several local jurisdictions in our state. After much opposition, the bill was amended to exempt agricultural use, and tailored to restrict circuses specifically.

Unfortunately, the same groups pushing the Montgomery County bill have now set their sights on the city of Gaithersburg. Again, the Montgomery County Farm Fair is in the cross-hairs.

Families from all over the state and from outside the state come to the Montgomery County Farm Fair each year and many more drive through the area on their way to other places with their livestock.

In light of these aggressive attacks on one of the oldest industries in our great country and in our great state, I have introduced legislation, House Bill 880, which would restrict the ability to pass a local law in Maryland that restricts the transport of animals for farming and agricultural related activities.

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Farming seems to be constantly under attack from every side by activist extremists, but I believe the state has a duty to protect our farmers and our farm fairs for not only the consumers who desire to purchase American made animal products, but for our children who will one day be America’s farmers.

Del. Lauren Arikan, a Republican, represents District 7 in Harford County.

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