USDA conference to offer outlook on variety of farm issues

Like the owners of any other businesses, farmers can make their best decisions when they have good information.

And farmers who attend the USDA's 83rd annual outlook conference will be bombarded with a bin full of thoughts from some of the best minds in agriculture.


About 100 speakers, including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, will discuss a variety of issues including crop insurance, farm income, the outlook for the poultry and dairy industries, and the creation of a new national farm bill.

"It will cover a huge range of stuff," said Bruce L. Gardner, a professor at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who will moderate a session on the national farm bill.


Gardner, who served as assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President George H.W. Bush, said people who want to keep up with what is expected to happen in the commodities markets will get the latest and best information.

"I'm interested in the grain market," he said. "I wonder if these corn prices are going to hold up as a result of the demand for ethanol."

Some of the highlights on the first day of the conference are expected to include an agricultural economic outlook from Keith Collins, veteran chief economist at the USDA, and an international agricultural trade outlook by A. Ellen Terpstra, deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural service.

James Johnson, chief of the farm and rural business branch of the USDA's Economic Research Service, will discuss the income outlook for U.S. farms and the farm economy for this year.

The outlook for farm household well-being will be the topic of a talk by Carol James, who is with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Four other USDA undersecretaries will offer perspectives on the farm bill Congress is expected to have ready by September.

Gardner will moderate a panel discussion on the farm bill as it applies to modernizing the nation's farm and food policy.

"There will be two sessions on the farm bill," he said. "One represents the USDA view, and the one I moderate will feature outside views. There will be someone from the American Farm Bureau on the panel, along with an environmentalist and an agri-business person."


Poultry is the largest sector of Maryland's farm economy. Sales of $565 million in 2005 accounted for 35 percent of total farm sales.

What the year ahead offers for chicken farmers, here and in other parts of the country, will be addressed by Shayle Shagam, a poultry and livestock analyst with the USDA's world outlook board.

John D. Lawrence, an extension livestock economist with Iowa State University, will discuss the effect of ethanol production on livestock farmers.

The price of corn, a primary animal feed, has risen as more corn is used in the production of the alternative fuel.

The event starts at 8 a.m. March 1 and runs through 3 p.m. March 2. The conference will be at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va.

The fee for the conference is $300 for those who register by Feb. 5.


To attend one day, the cost is $245. The fee for registrations after Feb. 5 is $350 ($270 for a single day). The cost includes meals. Walk-in registrants are charged an additional $15.

For more information and to register: 877-572-6043.

Agriculture dinner

Farmers will get a chance to hear Gov. Martin O'Malley on Thursday evening at the annual Maryland Agriculture Dinner in Glen Burnie.

The event, which celebrates the importance of farming in Maryland, will be held at Michael's Eighth Avenue restaurant. The governor is scheduled to be at the dinner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Governor's Agriculture Hall of Fame awards will be presented to two Maryland farm families that have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to agriculture and the communities in which they live and work.


Tickets are $85. Reservations: 301-405-2434.

Ash borer

Forest workers are chopping down about 25,000 ash trees in the Clinton/Brandywine area of Prince George's County to halt the spread of a pest blamed for the destruction of 25 million trees in other parts of the country.

In infestation of the emerald ash borer, a small beetle from Asia, was spotted in the county last summer.

Maryland's eradication plan includes the removal of all ash trees within a 1 1/2 miles of each infected tree. This includes the cutting of giant trees, some 100 feet tall, as well as seedlings.

Ash trees are among the most common landscaping trees in the nation and are common in Western Maryland forests.


The Maryland Department of Agriculture has issued a quarantine that bans transporting of ash firewood or any hardwood firewood, including oak, maple and cherry, in or out of the county.

If the ash borer spreads, it could cause $300 million of damage to trees in the Baltimore area, according to the USDA. Nationally, damage could range from $20 billion to $60 billion.

A public meeting will be held Tuesday at Waldon Woods Elementary School in Clinton to outline the state's eradication plan. The school is at 10301 Thrift Road.