There's no denying that development is killing off farmland in western Howard County. But the political power of the Howard County Farm Bureau is hardly dead.
Witness the County Council meeting Monday night, where Chairman Charles C. Feaga -- the only farmer on the council -- retreated from plans to repeal a 1912 fence law written when farm property was a key issue in Howard.
The western Howard County Republican, who raises Black Angus beef cattle, told fellow council members that the law is outdated, but he conceded, "I do see a 440-member Farm Bureau group out there that wholeheartedly supports it."
The Farm Bureau's membership actually numbers 454, said president Martha Clark, whose organization does not endorse individual candidates but mails a newsletter to its members, who stay abreast of county politics.
"I think we have a relatively stable influence," said Mrs. Clark, who, with her husband, owns a dairy, beef and grain farm in Glenelg.
Mrs. Clark said the bureau works with the county on the farmland preservation program, in which the county buys development rights to stop new-home construction on western Howard's farmland.
Such development eliminated more than 12,000 farm acres -- about 23 percent of the county's total -- from 1982 to the last agricultural census in 1992.
Despite the loss of farm acreage, the number of Farm Bureau members has grown in recent years, Mrs. Clark said.
People are farming on less acreage, raising sheep and horses, Christmas trees, ornamental trees, sod and other landscaping products.
Some traditional dairy and grain farms remain, she said.
Mrs. Clark supports the fence law, which assures that the cost of building and maintaining fences is shared by adjacent neighbors. Most farmers get along, but they know the fence law is on the books if trouble arises, she said.
"It helps prevent disputes," Mrs. Clark said.
Mr. Feaga indicated the council would repeal the law except for the agricultural areas in western Howard.