Bills shine on young farmers (Editorial)

by | May 11, 2018

With the legislative dust settled in the closing of the Maryland General Assembly session, farmers began stirring up actual dust in a flurry of planting and field work relieved by the failure of many threatening and onerous bills and the passage of some helpful ones.
On the “bad bill” side, farm groups succeeded in beating back a measure to ban chlorpyrifos, a seldom-used but crucial pesticide tool for fruit and nursery growers; and a bill seeking to make nutrient management plan information public.
Though it won a lot of fanfare from supporters and the media, the Community Healthy Air Act, a bill setting out to establish a testing regime of air emissions from large animal farms died in committee.
Farm groups and farmers who testified said the bill was duplicative of an expensive federal study on farm emissions and would not have yielded quality data.
Good bills that passed and were signed into law include a 5-percent gross vehicle weight tolerance for grain and other fresh crops during harvest season; a state income tax credit towards the processing cost of donating venison to food banks and the Farmer and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, which will assist hunters and deer management permit owners with the cost of processing donated deer when funding for programs such as FHFH run out; and strengthening the definition of “agritourism” authorizing a local jurisdiction to adopt the definition of agritourism by local ordinance, resolution, law, or rule.
Bills and the state budget also looked favorably on young farmers in the state.
The budget included $2.5 million in funding for MARBIDCO’s Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program helping young and beginning farmers find farmland to purchase and put it on track to be preserved.
Behind the support and leadership of Sen. Mac Middleton, the legislature also authorized three additional fiscal year budgets of $2.5 million for the “Next Gen” program through additional legislation.
Another bill that passed created the Maryland Loan Assistance Repayment Program for Farmers within the Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance, which supports the repayment of a higher education loan owed by a farmer meeting certain criteria.
Finding affordable land to farm as their own and the pressure of paying off school loans are two of the top obstacles young farmers face. It’s good to see progress on both to further secure ag’s future stewards.
Two factors seemed to be key in agriculture’s success in Annapolis; a willingness of legislators on both sides of the aisle to listen and farmers using their voices to show how proposed laws would affect them positively or negatively.
That included FFA members from high schools across Maryland who testified in support of a bill that would define Agriculture Education in Maryland public schools and encourage county school programs to adopt and use this definition in their existing ag education programs or when they are creating new ag education programs.
That bill failed in the Senate but you can bet those students will be back, charging ahead for their careers and industry.

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