Md. legislators need ag education (Editorial)

(May 10, 2016) A little more than a year into his job as Maryland secretary of agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder is turning to teaching skills he once honed in the Baltimore County school system to educate state lawmakers about the Maryland agricultural industry.
For those legislators who hail from the politically dominant urban areas west of the Chesapeake Bay, it is an education desperately in need and sorely to be missed.
The educational process is among Bartenfelder’s priorities since taking office and it continues even though the legislature is not now in session.
The secretary, in a recent department newsletter, said throughout the recently concluded 90-day legislative session “we focused on educating legislators about Maryland’s No. 1 industry and a number of bills that would have had a direct negative impact on the agriculture industry and the operational and fiscal functions of the department.”
There were three of those Bartenfelder labeled anti-agriculture.
All three measures, he said, “targeted livestock production and the current way Maryland farmers conduct business.
“These bills were proposed by out-of-state interest groups, or other environmental groups, who would like to see unnecessary changes be made to Maryland’s agriculture industry,” Bartenfelder said.
“The department spent a significant amount of time working to defeat these bills by educating legislators on the negative impact they would have on the industry and the fiscal impact they would place on taxpayers and family farmers.”
All three were defeated.
The ag secretary had one-on-one meetings with lawmakers during the legislative session.
Last year when the General Assembly was not in session, he continued contact with legislators — offering them tours of the department headquarters and Salisbury labs, farm tours and generally trying to stay in touch to help them better understand ag and its importance to Maryland’s economy and way of life.
“I personally participated,” Baertenfelder noted, “in five agricultural briefings to various committees on the status of Maryland’s agricultural community and the department’s function as a state agency, in addition to countless individual meetings with legislators and their staff to ensure they understand the importance of Maryland’s agriculture industry.”
For Bartenfelder and the agriculture department, the fact that the legislature is not in session is not like the summer vacations he used to get from the classroom.
The department, the secretary assured, “will continue to work with a wide range of various stakeholders, commissions and advisory boards to address any possible legislative issues or policy developments” that may be under discussion in the 2017 legislative session.
Bartenfelder, a Caroline County farmer, has been surprised by the lack of knowledge about farms, farming and the ag industry on the part of many state lawmakers.
He is determined to do what he can to educate them.
We can take a great deal of comfort from that.