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Farmers look ahead to USDA predictions for growing season

The Baltimore Sun

Some of the best minds in agriculture will be offering their predictions for the year ahead during the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual outlook forum, a two-day event starting Feb. 21.

Speakers will also discuss the trends in agriculture and farm policies.

There will be addresses by two of the top officials at the USDA - the secretary and the chief economist. Because both positions are filled by acting replacements, the USDA said it is too soon to say who will be giving the talks.

The chief economist will discuss the outlook for farming this year.

More than 100 speakers will address a variety of issues, including an outlook for farm finances, trade with other countries, forecasts for dairy, livestock and poultry markets and commodity prices.

The forum will have a panel discussion of the impact of higher commodity prices on the family grocery budget.

Jerry L. Hatfield, a plant physiologist with the USDA's Economic Research Service, will offer predictions on how global climate changes will affect agriculture over 10 to 30 years.

The forum, to be held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va., opens at 7 a.m. Feb. 21 with registration and a continental breakfast. It concludes at 3:15 p.m. the next day.

The fee, which includes refreshments, lunch and dinner, is $350.

Sustainable farming

Increasing farm profits will be the focus of an education session in Hagerstown later this week.

On Friday, Future Harvest - Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) will open its two-day "Farming for Profit and Stewardship" conference at the Four Points Sheraton, 1910 Dual Highway.

The conference is considered the biggest farm education program in the state.

Its sponsors include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, University of Maryland and West Virginia University cooperative extensions, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and MidAtlantic Farm Credit, the region's largest agricultural lender.

The conference will feature a panel discussion, "Farming for Profit," which looks at successful farming enterprises in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Workshop topics include:

Getting started in honey: production and marketing, featuring Jerry Fischer, a bee inspector with the state Department of Agriculture.

Tunneling for profits: season extension for tomatoes using a form of green housing called high tunnels.

Selling directly to the marketplace.

Other workshops will cover edible flowers, management techniques to increase profits with sheep and goats, protecting poultry flocks from disease, and a farmers guide to agriculture credit.

Cynthia Barstow, an author, university professor and consultant, will give the keynote luncheon speech at noon Saturday.

Her book, The Eco-Foods Guide, looks at the downsides of modern agriculture's prolific use of pesticides, growth hormones and nonrenewable resources.

The price of admission for both days is $55 for student members of Future Harvest CASA; $95 for regular members, and $125 for nonmembers.

Chemical storage

The state Department of Agriculture is urging farmers and agribusiness organizations to review new chemical guidelines from federal homeland security regulations to determine whether they comply.

Those who fall within the new regulations will need to file a "Top Screen" assessment form with the Department of Homeland Security before Jan. 21.

In an effort to increase security at high-risk chemical facilities, the agency recently released a list of chemicals that, if possessed by a facility in a specified quantity, would require it to complete the chemical security anti-terrorism "Top Screen" assessment.

Failure to comply with the regulations could result in civil penalties of up to $25,000 a day or the closing of the facility.

State Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson said farmers storing fertilizers, pesticides including fumigants and other chemicals could be affected.

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