Farm Bureau encouraged with early bill action
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Farmers in Maryland could benefit from several bills in the legislature this year thanks to a “tremendous” amount of support from lawmakers across the state, the Maryland Farm Bureau said this month.
The Farm Bureau is tracking a series a bills that could ease regulations for agritourism operations, help local farmers sell to grocery stores and improve the state’s restrictive procurement system, said Colby Ferguson, Farm Bureau’s government relations director.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of legislator (support) across the board — urban, rural, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, all around the state — to really reach out to Farm Bureau and the agricultural individuals down in Annapolis and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’” he said.
Ferguson was speaking at the University of Maryland’s 2019 Agricultural Outlook and Policy Conference at the Doubletree Hotel on Jan. 18.
Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel County, has sponsored a bill that would ease burdensome regulations for agricultural buildings used for agritourism in her county.
Elfreth was elected to the Senate in November.
“It’s a great bill coming from a brand-new Democrat who is very environmentally friendly” — surprising for a liberal, suburban legislator, Ferguson said. “Her very first bill that she’s introducing is a pro-ag bill, so that’s a good thing.”
Another freshman legislator, Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Montogmery County, plans to submit several pro-agricultural bills, including one that would allow farmers who produce certain kinds of food, such as bread, to sell to grocery stores. Another would create a task force to examine the state’s procurement process in an effort to ease access for local producers, Ferguson said.
Dels. Andrew Cassilly, R-Cecil County, and David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery County, are sponsoring a bill that would amend state law so that it conforms to the federal Hemp Farming Act of 2018 — part of the Farm Bill — which removed hemp from a list of federally controlled substances, rendering it a normal agricultural commodity.
The Farm Bureau is also pushing a bill that would make permanent a temporary law that allowed farmers using a Class K tag on farm equipment to drive up to 25 miles away from their home.
“We believe that’s been a huge help to a lot of our farmers, particularly on the Eastern Shore, that are farming lots of acreage,” Ferguson said.
A delegation of Frederick County legislators has expressed interest in doing something to help ailing dairy farmers in the state, Ferguson said. In Prince George’s County, legislators want to help diversify agriculture and remove market barriers for farmers, he said.
Farm Bureau isn’t without concern, however. There has been discussion in Annapolis of expanding the state’s neonicotinoid ban to include farmers, Ferguson said. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been found on several occasions on retail shelves even after the state’s ban on consumer use went into effect last January, he said.
“There could be a bill coming in to ratchet that down,” he said. “That could be one that we get in the middle of again.”
Neonicotinoids will be of particular use to farmers if the spotted lanternfly, detected in Cecil County in the fall, spreads to other parts of the state, he said.