State agricultural businesses have grown in past 15 years


One on One is a weekly feature offering exceThe Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Raymond J. Miller is president of the Maryland Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which oversees the Maryland Agriculture Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.

Q.How would you characterize the state of agriculture in Maryland today?

If you ask most people in the state of Maryland what has happened to agriculture over the last 15 years, they'll tell you it's decreased . . . Not true. It turns out that over the last 15 years, agriculture in the state of Maryland in real terms has increased about 42 percent. Those are real dollars. Now we've had some growth and we've had some decreasing industries. The poultry industry, of course, has increased significantly, as has the egg industry. Nursery and turf industries have become very large and very important in this state, and, of course, we don't even have the equine industry in agricultural statistics, so we really don't have good numbers on it, but I would suggest that over the last 15 years, it's increased significantly too. Now on the other side, we've had some decrease in dairy . . . tobacco, of course, has decreased. Corn has decreased, but it's been supplanted by soybeans. The fruit industry has decreased, and so on. Now we have lost land. We've lost a significant amount of land to development. But it turns out that our harvested acres have stayed about constant over the last 15 years.

Are the various state and federal programs and the programs at the University of Maryland sufficient to address the changing needs of agriculture?

A. I would say that if we have a deficiency, it is that we haven't been pro-active enough in some areas. For example, I don't think have been as involved as we maybe should have been in the land-use area, helping people understand what some of the options were, what some of the potential consequences, alternatives are and so forth. In some of the research areas, I'm not sure that we've looked at alternate industries, and begun to generate the knowledge base as soon as we should have.

What kind of work is done at the Maryland Agriculture Experiment Station?

We have the mandate to try to keep agriculture viable and competitive in its broadest sense by solving or preventing problems. Now to do that, you have to have a broad aray of programs going all the way from what I would call very fundamental programs to ones that are very applied or adapted. And so the Experiment Station will have that array of programs all the way from engineering to sociology, and we have programs in plant and animal agriculture, we have some programs in sociology, we have programs in economics, and so on.

Q. What are the goals of the Cooperative Extension Service?

The goal of the Cooperative Extension Service actually, if you really want to bring it down to real fundamentals, all of what we do is help people grow as individuals so that they can hopefully develop to their maximum capability.

Q. How does this apply directly to agriculture?

Well, again it goes back to those roots. When it was set up, that was still the major industry in the country . . . So a large part of the effort is in essence the transfer of agriculture knowledge to the city. But, you also have . . . two or three issues. A lot ofagricultural people will say, well, it was cut out to serve agriculture. Therefore, you shouldn't be working in the city. The city people will say, well, we're the taxpayers. Why shouldn't they be working with us? The issue is really somewhat different. It's that if agriculture and the food system is really going to survive and grow, you've got to have people living in the city that understand and know [agriculture] as well as [they do] in the rural communities.

Recently the Maryland Institute of Agriculture and Natural Services was formed to oversee both the Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service. Why was this umbrella organization created?

The Cooperative Extension Service and the Experiment Station have been separate components of the University of Maryland system for 15 or so years. So this is one of the steps in beginning to try to get at this lack of understanding as to what not only the Experiment Station and Extension are, but also what it is that they do and what they stand for.

Is this creation of an institute accompanied by a change of duties or a change of personnel?

A. Realize that anything we do now is complicated because of the budget problems that all of us have. Whenever you're in a time of retrenchment, anything that you do is going to be interpreted to be taking something from somebody, and so that becomes a very difficult issue . . . We've been re-addressing a lot of our programs for a number of years. For example, almost five years ago, Extension went through and we identified every program they had in the state and then they subdivided those into three broad categories -- high, medium and low -- and then within each of those, they ranked every program . . . What we did is, that as we changed and closed off these low-priority programs, we began to hold positions and vacancies in dollars so that with time you could redirect those. And that's what we were in the process of doing, is redirecting those.

What are those areas to which you want to redirect those resources?

. One of the things we feel we've got to do is be able to bring together teams of people to really deal with the problems and the needs in the state...The dilemma you get into is that if you've got faculty members who are on a research or extension appointment nd they're doing teaching a lot of people are going to say that's impacting teaching. But that might be because there haven't been adequate teacing resources...That's a campus decision.

Q. Has there been some discussion at the University of how viable the agriculture education program is?

A. That's been an area of concern across the country. And I'll use Maryland as the example. If you look at what has happened to colleges of ag enrollment, most of them will have peaked in the mid '70s . . .

I think in the case of College Park at that time, I think the ag enrollment got up to somewhere in the range of 1,500 students. And then it started coming down. And in about 1986 or so, I think it was down to . . . 600 or fewer students. And we really spent some time looking at what we needed to do with the undergraduate program. And a lot of effort was put into revising curriculum and changing and so on, and really going out and marketing . . . I don't know what enrollment is right now, but I

would guess it's back in the 900 to 950 range. The goal when we went through all this was to get to about 1,000 and stabilize there. Now we got there much faster than anybody anticipated, but the problem is that a large bulk of those students are in agribusiness, economic and other areas. So there's been a huge growth there. Some of the other areas have not done nearly as well and there are still some areas that are under-utilized in terms of students.

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