One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session.
The number one industry in the state of Maryland is agriculture, but it doesn’t take long in Annapolis to see that it’s not celebrated by everyone. Many bills this legislative session seem to target our number one industry and enforce strict rules and regulations on Maryland farmers. The consequences of these bills could result in economic hardship and the closure of businesses.
The dairy industry in Maryland is a perfect example of what happens when low prices combined with over regulation increases the economic burden on farmers. There were around 1,400 dairy farms in Maryland in 1989, and now only 364 dairy farms remain. I would like to thank Gov. Larry Hogan for his support in contributing $1.5 million in state funds to enable Maryland dairy farmers to take part in a new federal funding program that creates up to $17 million in financial relief. To follow-up on his leadership to support the dairy industry, I have introduced legislation to promote truth in labeling for the sale of a product labeled as milk or a milk-based product if the product is not derived from a cow or another animal. This legislation aims to bring labeling in line with the FDA’s definition of milk: “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
In addition to this legislation, I have taken other steps to give relief to farmers and protect our rural heritage such as legislation to remove the sunset on the increased radius for farm area motor vehicles, add Harford County to the list of counties that allow the use of rifles under a deer management permit to protect crops, and encourage boards of education to implement an agricultural education program.
Farm area vehicle tags, also known as K-tags, allow farmers to operate their vehicles on a road or highway within a 25-mile radius of their farm while taking advantage of a significant registration fee discount. I’m pleased that this legislation passed the Senate unanimously.
Adding Harford County to the list of counties that allow the use of rifles under a deer management permit will allow Harford County landowners who are experiencing severe economic loss from crop damage the ability to better remove them from their property. According to a 2011 estimation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural statistics service, Maryland deer caused $7.7 million in agricultural damage statewide. This simple legislation will help farmers reduce crop damage and increase production.
Although the agriculture education bill was unfortunately defeated in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee by a party-line vote, it’s still an important piece of legislation that is essential to the progress of the agricultural industry and was the Maryland Farm Bureau’s top priority for 2019.
Some of the anti-agriculture legislation that has been proposed in the Maryland State Senate this year include: increased nutrient management regulations, prohibiting certain pesticides, and increasing limitations and reporting requirements for the use of antimicrobial drugs in cattle, swine and poultry.
While some legislation directly affects the agricultural industry, there are also others that indirectly affect the industry. For example, the ban on polystyrene and starting school before Labor Day has a ripple effect to agricultural producers and participators.
The ban on polystyrene will not stop out of state producers from using polystyrene to ship food and vegetables into Maryland. However, the local farmer at the farmers market will be prevented from using foam to package eggs or vegetables. This will cause them to have to find an alternative product that may be more expensive or less protective than Styrofoam.
For 4-H children and parents, a pre-Labor Day school start date forces parents to make a difficult decision between showing their animals and missing school days. 4-H children and parents work very hard to get their show animals ready for the State Fair, but it also provides a learning experience outside of school. Many students and parents will end up sacrificing their time at the State Fair if this legislation continues to move forward.
A majority of the sponsors of anti-agriculture legislation reside in non-rural areas of Maryland, so it is important that people from rural areas reach out to them and extend an olive branch to share why you value Maryland's rural and agricultural heritage. Anyone interested in joining me to help protect and promote Maryland's rural and agricultural heritage feel free to reach me at Jason.Gallion@senate.state.md.us.
Republican Sen. Jason Gallion represents District 35.