Md. issues legislature a strategic plan for ag
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As the Maryland General Assembly begins its 2020 session, lawmakers will have as a resource an updated strategic plan for the state’s agriculture industry.
During last year’s session, the legislature directed the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology to develop the plan and submit it to it’s budget committees by Dec. 1.
Along with farm and farmer demographics, the plan — available online at mda.maryland.gov — uses more than 9,000 stakeholder responses to analyze external forces and trends impacting Maryland agriculture, identify the industry’s strengths and challenges and describe a vision for the state industry going forward.
MDA and the Hughes Center held four regional listening sessions throughout the state and two at MDA headquarters in Annapolis to gather input.
“We wanted to make sure that this plan addresses the concerns of all of our farmers, agricultural stakeholders, and members of our rural communities,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder in a letter accompanying the plan. “The best way for us to do that was to hear directly from the source.”
Respondents identified several trends and external forces that can greatly affect Maryland agriculture.
They listed the rising costs of production across many agricultural sectors, increasing regulations for farmers to follow, increasing urbanization in many areas of the state and a lack of access to both skilled and unskilled labor as some of the trends facing the industry.
An emphasis on environmental stewardship, managing the consumer’s perception of agriculture and shifting consumer preferences were also listed.
The plan lists several strengths, recognizing the industry’s diversity and balance, commitment to conservation, food quality and safety; the effectiveness of state-funded programs for agriculture including MARBIDCO and the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost Share program; progress in preserving farmland; promoting it’s production to consumers in and out of state and collaborating with surrounding states.
Education was listed as both a strength and a challenge. As a strength, Maryland is committed to raising future generations of farmers through agriculture-focused youth development programs like 4-H and FFA; non-formal educational initiatives and multiple higher education institutions.
The state and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation supplies numerous resources to teachers and schools statewide to teach the importance of understanding agriculture.
As a challenge, the plan said Maryland “lacks a consistent statewide K-12 curriculum for agricultural education, which creates inconsistency from county-to-county.
“In many areas, public schools prioritize other STEM fields over agriculture, producing challenges in educating and recruiting future agricultural professionals.”
Respondents added more non-formal technical eduction is needed for farmers to implement new technologies and best management practices.
Other challenges listed in the plan include maintaining profitability, navigating regulations, cost and availability of land for farming, lack of funding for technical assistance, lack of equity by other sectors and states in Chesapeake Bay cleanup, access to healthy food and uncertainty in the next generation pursuing farming careers, which some respondents related to a lack of K-12 agricultural education.
Listening session participants were asked what an ideal agriculture industry would look like. The plan writing team summed up responses this way:
“Based on the survey data, an ideal industry would have localized processing and distribution systems operated by a highly-trained and skilled workforce that competes with other STEM industries.
Farmers would continue providing high-quality, nutritious foods to consumers across Maryland, the Mid-Atlantic region, and overseas. Consumers would be well-educated and less skeptical of production agriculture. All sectors of the industry would support each other and work together to provide a diverse range of products to a diverse range of consumers.
“The financial burden of starting a new operation would cease to exist, and a new generation of farmers would continue Maryland’s legacy as a worldwide leader in sustainable farming practices.”
As for how to achieve that vision, responses fell into six initiative areas the plan lists as priorities. Developing a stronger workforce, infrastructure and market network cover half of the initiative areas and fostering more adoption of technology and continuing conservation efforts with cost share support and increased technical assistance make up the other three.
“This plan will be an important roadmap for our industry and we are very grateful to everyone who took the time to be a part of this process,” Bartenfelder said in his letter. “Though we have some serious challenges ahead, I hope this report leaves you optimistic in the direction of Maryland agriculture.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925