MFB workgroup to study UM ag college

Managing Editor

DAVIDSONVILLE, Md. (April 14, 2015) — The Maryland Farm Bureau is forming a workgroup to address “concerns over the direction and focus” of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and its Extension service.
Following a meeting of its board of directors, MFB posted on its Facebook page last week that the board requested forming the workgroup and seeking members who would like to be considered to participate.
“MFB’s Board believes it is critical to the future well-being of our land grant institution and the livelihoods of farmers in Maryland that strategic advice be crafted and offered to current and incoming leadership teams at College Park,” the social media posting said.
The announcement came as the university and college began a series of interviews and open forums for candidates to be the next dean of the AGNR college and director of University of Maryland Extension.
Last Friday, Dr. William Bowerman, chairman of the college’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology, gave his presentation as a candidate for dean and two more are scheduled this week.
The current dean, Dr. Cheng-i Wei’s term ends on June 30 after 10 years at the position.
Through a college spokesperson, Wei declined to comment specifically about the workgroup but said the college welcomes feedback from its stakeholders.
“Teamwork and collaboration between the College of AGNR and Maryland’s agricultural industry are essential to the advancement of College programs and the well-being of stakeholders,” Wei said. “College representatives routinely sit down with various groups and welcome constructive conversations concerning the College’s future.”
Valerie Connelly, Maryland Farm Bureau executive director, said while specific discussion of forming the workgroup only began at the board meeting last week, directors shared concerns they have and have heard from other farmers in recent years.
Connelly said issues of concern include the reorganization of Extension field staff throughout the state and a dwindling number of Extension agents and specialists who have retired or left the state and not yet been replaced.
The need for more agents and researchers is important, Connelly said, especially for nutrient management expertise, where research and recommendations from the college is used in making and updating regulations.
“Since we’re tied to that law we want to be sure we’re getting good solid information from the college,” Connelly said.
Another concern board members shared was the need for more majors in the college focused on production agriculture.
Connelly said forming the workgroup allows the Farm Bureau to go beyond complaining and tabulate its concerns, assign a priority and discuss ideas for solutions that it can take to college and university officials.
“Ideal volunteers include UMD AGNR alumni, producers who interact regularly with Extension, and MFB members with expertise in the area who can offer ideas and potential solutions,” the farm bureau wrote on Facebook.
Harry Moreland, a Caroline County famer and a member of the Farm Bureau’s board of directors was named chairman of the committee.
Connelly said the workgroup’s first meeting is slated for the end of April in which the group could set goals and a timeframe its work.
Connelly said farm groups elsewhere are dealing with concerns about the direction of their state’s land grant institutions as the topic is part of an upcoming regional meeting Maryland Farm Bureau is hosting.
“It’s not an issue just here in Maryland,” she said.