Pats on the back are in order (Editorial)
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth and others were able to pull together enough support last month to save a Perdue Agribusiness grain elevator in Lothian that was slated for closure.
The facility is a critical piece of Southern Maryland’s agricultural infrastructure, and if it closed, officials feared that it would effectively eliminate an unknown number of farms in the region’s shrinking agricultural community. For Pittman, Elfreth, the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission and others, this was unacceptable, quite rightly, and the county decided to buy it.
Too much agriculture has faded away over the last several decades as local, regional and state governments sat by and let suburban growth run the board.
The COVID-19 pandemic, to a degree, highlighted the consequences: bare grocery store shelves, lines out the door at regional meat processors, high-quality food rotting in the fields. Caring for local farmers, we discovered, is simply another form of self-care.
In Southern Maryland, many of those farmers need that elevator. They don’t have the equipment or trucks to move their grain elsewhere, and many feared they are too old to transition to new crops. Perdue wanted to shutter the elevator two years ago, and, to its credit, delayed at the urging of state and local government officials, who were given two additional growing seasons to find a solution.
Technically, growers don’t yet have a solution.
The county must still find someone to lease and operate the four-decade-old grain elevator, and substantial upgrades may be necessary to lure an operator to the $1.25 million facility. (The state is reimbursing the county for the purchase, including an extra $250,000 that could be used to refresh the property, Pittman said.)
Perdue claims that as the region’s grain acreage shrank over the last 20 years, the elevator became unprofitable. Can a new operator do better? We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s refreshing to see a state and local government give a regional farming community what it needs to at least try. After all, how risky is it for a government to purchase 5 acres in suburban Washington?
We hope this sets an example for other counties whose ag communities are face similar existential threats as the region continues to grow.
Local farms are essential, and they shouldn’t fade without a fight.