Cooperation will be key (Editorial)

(Sept. 15, 2015) Like a seed planted in rich Maryland farmland, it put down roots, grew steadily, through decades, within the farm community and now has flowered in the Maryland Farm Bureau.
It was an awareness that under the spend-thrift reign of former governor and current lackluster presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, the budget for the University of Maryland was steadily shrinking and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resouces and its related Extension service (Note the small “s” — more on that later) were taking a major hit.
The farmers said they had begun to realize that the partnership, which had existed between the agricultural industry in the state and the ag college and Extension, was deteriorating.
County ag agents and specialists at the university were departing or retiring and not being replaced. There was a feeling that politics had invaded the curriculum.
The plant bore fruit and it was time to harvest.
Harry Moreland, a Caroline County farmer and member of the Maryland Farm Bureau board of directors, arose at a recent MFB directors meeting and said, simply, “Let’s put our concerns on the table with the university and talk about them.”
Moreland’s call to action came as the university decided to bring in a new dean of the AGNR college.
On Nov. 1, new dean Dr. Craig Beyrouty, who had addressed this year’s Commodity Classic and pledged his allegiance to farmers and their industry, takes office.
MFB, responding to Moreland’s presentation, appointed a workgroup which, after four months, last week issued a seven-page report detailing the concerns of the Farm Bureau.
MFB had sent the report along to Dr. Beyrouty. He said to let it go public.
You can find the entire report on both The Delmarva Farmer and Maryland Farm Bureau web sites.
We urge you to take the time to read it — and to read it all.
Among its concerns are that the ag college “has shown a lack of appreciation for and emphasis on production agriculture,” that the college needs to find “the agricultural side of environmental science,” and that “every county should have at least one agricultural Extension agent.”
And then there’s this: The college of agriculture, in successive recent years, has dropped the use of both “cooperative” and “service” from references to its Extension program. It has been going with “University of Maryland Extension.”
The MFB work group report states this: “In order to reflect the true meaning of ‘cooperative’ Extension as outlined in the Smith Lever Act, UMd should add the word ‘cooperative’ back into the name of the program. This will emphasize the cooperative effort between USDA, the University of Maryland and the county government.”
Whether its included in the name or not, cooperation among farmers, farm groups and college staff will be crucial if any headway is to be made.
The report, while loaded with opinions and things the college should do, falls short of substantive suggestions of how to get there.
We’re told once Dr. Beyrouty settles in to his new position, MFB president Chuck Fry hopes to meet with the new dean to further discuss the group’s concerns. That could be the beginnings of a road map to repairing relationships.
A report so incendiary could also worsen relations between university officials and Farm Bureau, regretfully putting the industry no better off than where it is today.
We hope the report is the beginning of a long productive dialogue, not the end of one.