Shore ag: Sure interesting (Editorial)

(Dec. 2, 2014) The future of agriculture on the Eastern Shore? “Bright,” replied members of two panels at a conference with that theme — minus the question mark, but, several of the panelists cautioned, as the question mark indicates — there are challenges ahead.
The all-day conference, held at the Tidewater Inn at Easton on Nov. 20 was hosted by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
It was a dress-up affair, attractive fall attire for the ladies and tie-and-jacket garb for most of the men, suiting, as it were, the environment of the Tidewater Inn’s Crystal Room. The event, billed as the 15th annual ESLC planning conference, attracted an estimated 200. Offered one observer: “I think there are about 15 farmers here.”
The panelists agreed that there are opportunities galore for agriculture — in one form or another — on the Eastern Shore and, within the context of the meeting, they seemed reluctant to paint anything but a rosy picture.
At one of the first opportunities to ask questions, — there was a break between the two panels just before lunch — a young woman in the back of the room, asked panel members to explain the apparent dichotomy between the pictures they were painting and the “doom and gloom” which seems to pervade the ag industry on the Shore.
The reference obviously was to the proposed implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool which could have an enormous impact on the poultry and row crop industries, particularly on the Lower Shore counties of Maryland.
Bill Brown, University of Delaware poultry specialist and himself a poultry grower, said the poultry industry “has overcome a lot of things in the past,” mentioning such events as the avian flu epidemic, and charged that the “doom and gloom” represented a “disconnect between the media and reality.”
Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, confirmed that “there are very real concerns within the industry” swirling around the PMT controversy.
“There have to be changes,” she said, “but $22 million is a lot of money” — that’s the estimated amount of money the PMT is going to cost the farmers to insert PMT into the state’s nutrient management regulations.
“That is not say,” Hoot added quickly, “that we can’t overcome it.”
Panelist Alison Howard of Homestead Farms, in Queen Anne’s County, who had addressed the standing-room-only Crystal Room crowd on organic production, jumped into the PMT fray which had finally reached the floor of the gathering.
“PMT would decimate the organic industry” on the Shore, she said, “ because we would not be permitted to use poultry or animal manure (in the production of certified organic crops). It would have a very large impact on organic production because we have nothing to replace it.”
On the whole, however, in the discussions which surfaced over the course of last Thursday, as the conference theme implied, “bright” won hands down.
The Eastern Shore, the discussions overwhelmingly agreed, will meet its challenges and, as it has in the past, the Eastern Shore will continue to be an agricultural powerhouse.
The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy deserves a round of applause for providing the opportunity to thrash this all out and to remind the Eastern Shore of the muscle in its agricultural legacy.