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Respective secretaries see bright future for Delmarva agriculture
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
EASTON, Md. (Nov. 25, 2014) — Though not without challenges, the top agriculture officials from the Delmarva states see a bright future for their industry.
Recording an episode of the Mark Steiner Show to cap off the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy annual planning conference, agriculture secretaries Ed Kee from Delaware, Buddy Hance from Maryland and Todd Haymore from Virginia, sharing the stage for the first time together, gave their perspectives on what the future may hold for agriculture on the peninsula and in the region.
Each stopped short of making hard predictions, but all agreed they see positive signs with more young people coming into the industry and technology creating oppurtunities for farmers to stay profitable. The landscape of agriculture will surely change from what it is now, they said, and farmers will have to adjust to meet customer needs and regulatory demands.
“I think the three of us probably put tremendous faith, because we’ve worked with farmers and been farmers all our lives, in the capacity of farmers to be flexible and create new opportunities as long as they have a stage from which they can compete fairly,” Kee said.
Pressed by Steiner on what path agriculture in the region will take — more small scale farms serving niche markets or more larger farms focused on commodities, each agreed it will be a mix of both and everything in between.
“I think it’s going to be that mix of tradtional ag and new opportunities coming along and throughout the state,” Haymore said.
Hance said with such a large and diverse customer base through the region, he doesn’t see any segment getting excluded.
“There’s going to be room for everybody,” he said. “There’s not just one pathway forward. The future pathways in agriculture in any of our different states is going to be a combination of all those different sectors.”
When it comes to regulation, Hance said farmers are becoming more aware that the public is watching what they’re doing and most likely from a different perspective.
The impacts of that could inform future rules placed on agriculture and Hance said if the rules are backed up by sound science, farmers will accept them.
“I think the farmers today have to become more cognizant of the citizens around us,” Hance said.
Kee said fair and judicious regulation can lead to innovation that solves a particular problem.
“In this room today, I know there are several people that are very interested in the next technology in how to do something different with poultry manure,” he said.
Hance said that kind of technology is in place on farms now in Maryland and if effective and widely adopted, would solve what called a “distribution problem” with poultry litter.
“The issues and problems that we see today can be quickly remedied with technology and nobody knows how quick or how soon that’s going to happen,” Hance said. “But we have the good fortune to see that from the ground up and I’m very optimistic that technology is going to solve this problem and we will work through the issues.”
When asked how they thought they could manage the industry’s evolution over time, the ag officials said they couldn’t, only anticipate what paths the industry may take and provide information to farmers and consumers to help them make good decisions.
“It’s hard in government to be proactive sometimes because you have to react to so many things that just happen,” Haymore said. “I think that we’re trying to make sure that as agriculture continues to evolve, Virginia is always a step or two ahead of where we believe things are going.”
The episode of Steiner’s show with the three agriculture secretaries is scheduled to air Nov. 25 on WEAA 88.9 FM at 10 a.m. or online at www.steinershow.org.