Grain elevator has its ups, downs (Editorial)

by | Sep 15, 2023

Since Perdue’s announcement more than two years ago that it would close its grain elevator in southern Anne Arundel County, farmers reliant on the facility have been begging for a solution from the state and county leaders who are well-meaning but inexperienced managers of such a project.
Now, as farmers itch to get their combines rolling, the situation appears to be right where it started, absent the luxury of time.
After the county announced it would purchase the elevator facility in March, farmers breathed a little easier.
The sale meant there was at least a chance that farmers would have the outlet available for their grain, so they forged ahead and planted a crop. Since then, information has come at a trickle as the county held closed meetings and negotiations with possible operators. We understand the discretion, but months have passed without public progress, frustrating many farmers.
A public meeting hosted by Mountaire Farms last month underwhelmed many who expected to learn how the poultry integrator would operate the facility, only to instead hear a sales pitch for grain marketing and learn from a county official that permitting and repairs would prevent the facility from receiving grain this fall.
Just days after that revelation, we were told by a county spokesperson, “The county has support from our state partners, and is hopeful that the grain elevator will be open this fall,” and it was seeking an “emergency procurement” with a potential operator.
The latest in the saga has County Executive Steuart Pittman urging farmers to plan “for the worst.”
Reopening an outmoded grain elevator is not an easy undertaking. If it were a desirable facility and location, Perdue would surely still own the facility.
But where were the backup plans? Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Corporation announced this month that it’s exploring grant opportunities for farmers who incur additional harvest transportation costs if the elevator remains closed — a good, if late, idea to entertain now, and a better, more feasible one in the spring and even into summer.
We recognize that a trucking solution is somewhat at odds with the purpose of the elevator, and we don’t discount that alternatives have been privately explored and rejected, but we’re left wondering whether this could have been handled better.
What’s worse? Buying an elevator and taking a year to reopen it while communicating clearly with local farmers, or buying an elevator and flip-flopping while exploring alternatives at the last minute and potentially not converting on any of it?
If the elevator isn’t able to receive grain this year, we see a long slog of a harvest, with friends and neighbors joining to share, borrow, rent or bargain to get the job done.
It is, essentially, how farmers respond in any crisis.

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