Bartenfelder meets with black legislators over ag bills

Associate Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 15, 2016) — State Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder met with black legislators last week to discuss the impact unfriendly farming bills have on Eastern Shore’s minorities, state agriculture officials said.
Bartenfelder spoke to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Thursday, March 10, about bills under consideration this session — including the controversial Poultry Litter Management Act — that have aggravated farmers and agriculture representatives who say the legislation could further harm an industry already struggling to navigate a growing maze of local, state and federal regulations, said Jason Schellhardt, an agriculture department spokesperson.
The meeting also occurred days after Allen Harim Foods announced the closure of its 71-year-old Cordova processing facility as it moves those operations to Delaware.
Most of the plant’s employees are African American, said Jim Eichhorst, deputy agriculture secretary, while discussing Bartenfelder’s meeting with the Maryland Agricultural Commission on March 9.
“The poultry industry does employ a lot of (the caucus’) constituents,” Schellhardt said.
The department and Delmarva farming interests have fought numerous bills over the last several years sponsored or supported by African American legislators largely from districts with little agricultural activity. Del. Mary L. Washington, D-Baltimore, is sponsoring a bill called the Farmers’ Rights Act that seeks to legislate new protections for farmers in contracts with their poultry integrators.
The Maryland Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations oppose the bill.
Last year, the industry protested a bill sponsored by Jay Walker — a black delegate from Prince George’s County — that sought to repeal a state sales tax exemption on agricultural products. Walker said he intended to redirect that money — more than $200 million — to schools. Agriculture officials said they feared the bill would have a disastrous effect on the industry. The bill died in committee.
The Poultry Litter Management Act, which would force poultry integrators rather than the state to take over the management of unused poultry litter created on their farms, is cosponsored in the House and Senate by many black legislators from Prince George’s to Baltimore counties.
In an e-mailed statement to The Delmarva Farmer, Bartenfelder said the meeting was the most recent in a series with legislators regarding the importance of the Shore’s poultry industry.