Ag, Environmental law conference well-attended
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Farmers, agribusinesses, and environmental groups sit together to listen, learn, and network at the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative’s annual Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference.
While these groups may at times have trouble connecting, they share the goal in maintaining the health of Maryland soils and waters.
As keynote speaker Sen. Thomas McLain “Mac” Middleton, the last full-time farmer currently serving in the Maryland legislature, said “you have to bring in the right stakeholders, who know the issues, and then the secret is to find something both sides have in common. You get somewhere in-between when you stand up and shake hands, and even if no one is entirely happy, that’s negotiation.”
Attending the ALEI Law Conference is a touchstone on the continuing negotiations between those in the agricultural and environmental communities to further the goal of a healthy Maryland landscape.
This year’s conference filled a large room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Nov. 8.
Topics covered included Legal Conflicts and Resolutions in the Aquaculture Industry, Phase III of the Watershed Implementation Plan – What Does it Mean for Farmers, Chlorpyrifos and the Legal Landscape of Pesticide Regulation, Developing Legal Issues in Agricultural and Environmental Law, and the Legalization of Industrial Hemp Farming.
“This conference is a rare and important opportunity for individuals who care about Maryland natural resources from a variety of perspectives to sit in a room together and get a sense of the legal framework many of these issues are impacted by,” said Mayhah Suri, a faculty specialist with the ALEI, and one of the conference planners said. “At ALEI we hope participants learn more about the law and have a chance to interact with folks they may not normally work with.”
Two of the current hot topics that stood out in discussion were Maryland’s aquaculture industry, and the state’s potential future hemp industry.
Aquaculture has had strong industry growth over the past few years, and currently includes 339 submerged land leases on 6,403 acres and 82 water column leases over 421 acres, and an additional 137 pending applications. Dorchester, Wicomico, St. Mary’s, Somerset and Talbot counties lead oyster aquaculture production within the state, with waterman accounting for almost half of the leases.
Current challenges facing the industry are: leases in relation to submerged aquatic vegetation, theft prevention, the leasing process and concerns of neighbors that may lead to protest, perceived user conflicts in regards to commercial docks and public access, and the proximity of leases to waterfowl blind sites.
The aquaculture segment presented by DNR ended with a slide proclaiming “Shellfish Aquaculture – think economy, employment, and environment – and remember, aquaculture is agriculture.”
The hemp presentation by Eric Steenstra, a hemp industry pioneer who has worked with many pro-hemp groups, began with a slide titled “Industrial Hemp: An Ancient Crop With Potential for Today’s Farmers.” Steenstra emphasized that “Hemp cannot be used as a drug. Hemp is as distinct from marijuana as a Chihuahua is from a St. Bernard — they are unique breeds of the same species.”
He said hemp’s crop advantages are that it can be grown without pesticides, it requires significantly less water than cotton crops, the fibers are naturally ultraviolet light resistant and have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
Hemp wood, fiber and seeds can all be used in multiple ways; from food and oil production to use in industrial materials. According to the 2017 U.S. Hemp Crop Report, 25,541 acres of hemp were grown in 19 states with 1,456 state hemp licenses issued. Some 32 universities have ongoing hemp research.
Hemp was important enough to be included in the ongoing negotiations for the Farm Bill, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell introduced S. 2667, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 in April 2018.
The bill has 29 cosponsors and strong bipartisan support including from Minority Leader Schumer.
On Monday, Nov. 11, the Associated Press reported that “One provision certain to be in the final Farm Bill is one to fully legalize hemp,” McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican is a key negotiator in the House-Senate conference committee crafting the final bill. “It will be in there, I guarantee you that,” he told reporters in Kentucky.