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Farmers may form lobbying group Md. Farm Bureau's PAC plan grew out of Pfiesteria hearings; Agriculture


HAGERSTOWN -- Maryland farmers are considering forming a political action committee to boost their clout in dealing with state and federal lawmakers.

The idea of a PAC was presented yesterday at the opening session of the 14,100-member Maryland Farm Bureau's annual convention.

"We need to have a stronger voice when dealing with the Legislature," said Daniel Shortall, an Eastern Shore grain and poultry farmer who chairs the bureau's political action committee.

"It's the cost of doing business today," he said. "If we are going to be a player [in the legislative process] we need to do it."

Shortall said as fewer elected officials with agriculture backgrounds make their way to the state and federal political offices, farmers have found that their ability to get a fair hearing on many important issues has been diminished.

He said that only three members of the General Assembly report agriculture as their professions. A lack of knowledge about agriculture has been apparent in Annapolis and in Washington, Shortall said.

"We started thinking about a PAC last year during the Pfiesteria hearings," Shortall said. "That's what triggered it. Farmers came out on the short end in that debate and that is when we knew we had to do something."

Farm Bureau President Stephen Weber said Maryland is an urban state and the "emotionally charged" hearings unjustly blamed farmers for the Pfiesteria outbreak.

Earlier in the day, a top state agriculture official conceded something that farmers have been saying for a long time: There is no proven link between Pfiesteria and nutrient runoff from farms.

"Whether it is related to Pfiesteria or not, we still need to do the job," Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Royden Powell III said of legislation passed earlier this year to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

"I'm not saying there is not a link," Powell said. "We have reason hTC to believe that if we can reduce the nutrients going into the water it will reduce the likelihood of another Pfiesteria outbreak."

L Shortall said the hope is to raise $50,000 a year for a PAC.

The funds would be used to support legislators friendly to farm issues.

Brad Eckart, deputy director of legislative services for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that 23 states already have farm PACs.

The perception of PACs is "that it's dirty money used to buy votes. But it is a legal tool," he said. "If you are not using it and your opponent is, you are losing out."

Farm Bureau members are scheduled to vote today on whether to proceed with plans for the PAC.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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