Hance recalls seven-year tenure as Md. ag secretary
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
OCEAN CITY, Md. (Dec. 16, 2014) — In what may be his final address to the Maryland Farm Bureau as the state agriculture secretary, Earl “Buddy” Hance recapped his last seven years at the post, discussing both good and bad.
Leading off with the proposed implementation of the Phosporus Management Tool, Hance said he “dreaded” the phone call from Gov. Martin O’Malley in November that the governor decided to move forward with implementing the tool after an economic analysis was released.
Hance said he tried to change O’Malley’s mind but “at the end of the day, I do work for the governor and so we’ve been given direction and criteria for the past 18 months and we did our best to make sure that even though you don’t like what’s on the table today, we did our best to provide as many provisions as we could to give some of you some relief in the end that the regulation does go through.”
Hance urged farmers to send comments on the proposed regulation, which is set to be adopted Jan. 16 unless substantive changes are made.
Hance added that he expects the incoming governor, Larry Hogan, to try to change the regulation when he takes office giving farmers another chance at offering input. Later in his speech, Hance said he had two regrets from his seven years as agriculture secretary, not being able to stop the PMT and not being in office to fix it.
“I will tell you I always had your back, every time, every minute,” Hance said, fighting tears, and said through the hardest times as secretary, he was asked why he didn’t resign as secretary.
“It might have made a statement but it wouldn’t have made a difference,” he said. “We did work really hard on your behalf and I was concerned that whoever would come behind us wouldn’t work so hard. You take that any way you want it.”
After Hance’s speech and a tearful hug with Maryland Farm Bureau President Chuck Fry, Fry said he understood the difficult position Hance was in.
“There’s a fine line between craziness and government and Buddy stood between the craziness and without him between that craziness. And God knows what we could have got,” Fry said. “And I appreciate that.”
Hance also took issue with the Chesapeake Bay Model and the challenges that come with getting farmers and the agriculture industry credit for their conservation practices.
“They’ll take any data they can get to increase our loads, in my opinion,” Hance said. “But when we work through credits to give credit for the things you do out on your farms everyday, it takes two years.”
Hance said that with the model frequently changing he has concerns about what it will deem as agriculture’s responsibility after the model’s realignment in 2017.
Shifting to the department’s highlights in the past seven years, Hance ran down a long list of measures strengthened or created at MDA to help farmers.
With Hance as agriculture secretary, the state’s farmland preservation program preserved 59,000 acres, paid $153 million in cost share grants, more than any other period in the state’s history and doubled cost share caps for both individual projects and entire farms.
“We didn’t want anybody to bump up against the cap and need to do more on their farm to make sure their doing the best job that they can,” he said.
Responding to increased demand for local food, the department started the Buy Local Challenge, Buy Local Cookout, Jane Lawton Farm to School program and oversaw a doubling of farmers’ markets statewide.
The Maryland Department of Agrisculture started the Maryland Ice Cream Trail a few years ago, highlighting farms that made and sold ice cream on their farm and and educating people about how farms operate.
“Everything we do needs to revolve around education,” Hance told the crowd of farmers. “When they get those customers out on their farm, they have a tremendous opportunity to educate not just the next generation but the current generation. The value of that is just tremendous.”
Last year MDA with help from numerous farm organizations, debuted the wildly successful “Maryland Farm and Harvest” show on Maryland Public Television which is now running the second season and planning for a third.
The show immediately became MPT’s most popular gaining 1.4. million viewers, Hance said, and producers say there’s no end to the farming stories that can be told.
Despite the many issues Maryland farmers face, Hance said he see’s a bright future for the state’s agriculture industry.
“You all are very resilient. You’ve always met challenges and done whatever needed to be done,” he said. “We’re fully committed. We don’t keep our farms in agriculture because we’re just a bunch of quitters. We just don’t do that.”