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Farmers to get a chance to take concerns to governor


If you're a farmer who's ever had the urge to take the governor out behind the barn and teach him a thing or two about agriculture, your day could be near.

The Governor's Agricultural Forum, an event that promoters say is designed to enable farmers to express their concerns directly to top state officials, is next week.

"If you're not at the table, you never get to present your views," said Charles "Jamie" Jamison, who farms 4,000 acres in the Poolesville area of Montgomery County. "It shows that the administration and members of the legislature are more cognizant of the importance of agriculture.

"This will be our chance to make them aware of our problems," the 59-year-old grain farmer said. "This is absolutely a good thing."

The forum is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Prince George's County Equestrian Center, 14900 Pennsylvania Ave. in Upper Marlboro.

It's been 12 years since the state planned such a meeting of the governor and farmers. In 1993, Gov. William Donald Schaefer was to attend the Governor's Conference on Maryland Agriculture at a hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The conference attracted farmers from across Maryland, but Schaefer was a no-show. His staff said he had a more urgent meeting.

Farmers were miffed. What could be more important, they complained, than agriculture, Maryland's largest industry?

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is slated to attend his forum. According to his staff, the governor is scheduled to speak between noon and 12:30 p.m.

When he announced plans in May for the forum, Ehrlich said the goal was "to consider all sectors of Maryland's production agriculture, identify overarching issues, and to construct recommendations that will continue to grow and promote agriculture in Maryland.

"Agriculture is essential to our state's economy, environment and quality of life, and I am committed to promoting its long-term viability," Ehrlich said.

Work on the forum began last summer, when the Maryland Agricultural Commission held the first of six public sessions to hear what was on farmers' minds. The 24-member group - a cross-section of members of the farming community - serves as an advisory board to the agriculture secretary and the governor.

Farmers turned out in larger numbers than the commission anticipated and voiced their concerns on topics ranging from the need to replace the state's lone grain export elevator, which closed in the summer of 2001 after being damaged by a storm, to getting more local produce into grocery stores.

Commission members gathered the hundreds of suggestions and developed a list of recommendations that will be the center of discussion at the forum.

Kate Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the full list of recommendations is posted on the department's Web site, mda.

"We would like everyone to go over the comprehensive list of recommendations point by point before the forum," she said. "If their concerns have been left out, they will have the opportunity to voice them at the session."

Although the deadline has passed, registrations still are being accepted, says Keith Menchey, the assistant secretary for policy development at the state Agriculture Department. The $20 registration fee covers refreshments, lunch and materials. Limited seating will available the day of the forum on a first-come basis.

To register, send a check, payable to the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology Inc., to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis 21401, Attention: Jennifer Jumalon.

Registration forms can also be obtained by logging on to the department's Web site and clicking on "Governor's Agricultural Forum" under "Hot Topics," or by calling 410-841-5881.

Workshop at UMES

The span between fall harvesting and spring planting is meeting time in the farm industry.

The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension has scheduled a workshop tomorrow on "value-added opportunities" for farm produce.

Such activities include changing the form of the product (converting grapes into wine), advertising and promoting, changing the packaging (switching from bushels to pounds) and selling retail instead of wholesale.

The session will be at 2 p.m. in the Richard A. Henson Center's Multipurpose Room on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne.

The workshop is free, but seating is limited. To reserve a space, call 410-651-6206.

Annual open house

The annual open house at the Maryland Department of Agriculture headquarters, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 25. Admission is free.

This year's theme is "Farm to City Celebration," highlighting the link between rural and urban residents and land use, as well as the department's role in protecting consumers, the environment and food supply.

Visitors can milk a cow, see the department's insect collection, ride a pony, visit a petting farm and listen to farmers' hog-calling skills.

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