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TOP STORY, April 15, 2014

Successful ag bills update existing laws, save money


By MICHEL ELBEN
Senior Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gov. Martin O’Malley signed more than 100 bills, including three initiatives by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, into law April 8.
The three bills clarified existing laws to help streamline processes and save money.
“We thank the O’Malley-Brown administration and members of the General Assembly who supported these bills and our efforts to improve services to the agriculture industry in Maryland,” said Agriculture Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance.
The MDA endorsed The Manure Transportation Project, Senate Bill 127, which authorizes the department to determine the amount of specified cost-share matching funds provided under the project. It also repeals specific caps on the per ton amount.
O’Malley also signed Senate Bill 70, which clarifies specific fertilizer labeling requirements and specified restrictions on the use and sale of specified fertilizers.
It will also classify “guaranteed analysis,” “organic fertilizer,” and “soil conditioner.”
Senate Bill 71 was also approved. It sets a floor and a ceiling for the purchase of a Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation agricultural preservation easement.
The legislation would not allow MALPF to purchase an easement for more than 75 percent of the land’s appraised fair market value.
Therefore, if the easement value is greater than 75 percent of fair market value, then the offer would be set at 75 percent of fair market value. 
In addition, if an offer is calculated at less than 25 percent of fair market value, this legislation will set the offer to be either 25 percent of fair market value or the asking price, whichever is less. 
Among the first 100 bills, O’Malley also indorsed an extension of the Maryland Horse Industry Board (SB 294) and an increase in water pollution penalties (SB 564 and HB 834).
O’Malley will ratify other ag bills in the coming weeks that include SB 221, which will allow the expansion of farm-area vehicles with a class K registration to travel from 10 to 25 miles.
Maryland Farm Bureau officials lobbied that many farming operations are expanding and farmers need the ability to travel further to and from operations. In addition, the majority of farmland in Maryland is rented land. Farmers need to transport their products and equipment to and from farming operations as well as to feed mills and markets.
Now farmers will submit a schedule F tax form or show proof of farming activity at the time of renewal or initial application.
There is a five-year limit on the radius increase, to look at the economic impact of the expansion.
Another bill, Senate Bill 771, will allow milk haulers to temporarily use five-axle trucks to haul additional weight on the state roads.
Haulers would be required to upgrade to six-axle trucks in the next two years.
House Bill 861 will also be endorsed.
It requires the landowner of an easement, approved for a specified purchase after a specified date, to request approval to use the land for renewable energy generation.
Relevant bills to the agricultural industry that were defeated this session include authorizing agritourism advertising signs on state highways (SB 941), studying the feasibility of growing industrial hemp in the state and the availability of its markets (HB 1472), and requiring entirely or partially produced genetically engineered foods to display a specified label (HB 1191 & SB 778).
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (HB 576) and the Poultry Fair Share Act (SB 725) were also trounced.
Regarding Phosphorus Management Tool regulations, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee added an amendment to the annual budget bill to require an economic impact study before the Maryland Department of Agriculture can issue the PMT directives.