This Week’s Headlines
Ag, poultry survive Maryland legislative session
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 25, 2017) — Agriculture, in particular the Delmarva poultry industry, emerged relatively unscathed from the 2017 session of the Maryland General Assembly.
But there were times within the three months of legislative deliberation when that did not seem to be in the cards.
In the end, most of the bills, which would have tightened government control over farm operations, were either withdrawn or failed to make it out of committee.
Three bills, introduced by the Maryland Department of Agriculture itself, sailed through the legislature and have already been signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
In the 90-day session in Annapolis, the chicken industry “fared quite well,” said Jim Fisher, director of communications for the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.
“Bills harmful to the Maryland chicken industry were unsuccessful, while a couple that we supported were sent to the governor,” Fisher told DPI members in a special report.
The stickler was Senate Bill 773, the so-called Community Clean Air Act, which would have required measuring the air emissions from large-scale poultry installations.
Fisher noted that it never cleared a Senate committee.
“This bill — we opposed it — would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to conduct a short, poorly defined, scientifically weak study of air emissions from chicken houses and other types of agricultural buildings,” Fisher reported.
“We argued that the study, as called for in the bill, would have been a waste of time and money and would have yielded just partial data of little use to Marylanders.”
Then there was Senate Bill 174. It never got out of committee either. It would have removed a state tax credit intended to help develop renewable energy sources such as chicken manure/litter.
“Opposing the bill,” Fisher said, “we argued that if alternative uses of manure/litter were being urged, then removing this state incentive to help with projects would be foolish.”
On the other side of the ledger, Fisher reported DPI worked with the sponsor to redesign Senate Bill 422, which eventually was passed and sent to Hogan.
The bill allows veterinarians to use their best professional judgment to prescribe antibiotics to keep farm animals healthy.
Senate Bill 917 will allow five-axle chicken live-haul trucks traveling on Maryland Department of Transportation roads to be close to a higher weight limit than exists in Delaware and Virginia.
“The higher weight limit in Maryland will allow more efficient use of vehicles, fewer trips, less road congestion, and considerably fewer vehicle emissions,” Fisher said.
DPI also supported Senate Bill 1158 that will create a system to designate solar generating facilities as “pollinator friendly” to encourage the planting of flowers underneath and around solar installations.
Research has shown that bees, through pollination, can increase the yield of nearby crops, including those that supply the feed ingredients essential to the chicken industry.
“Overall,” said Fisher, “on issues specific to the chicken industry, we had a good year.”
The legislative session also went well for MDA. Gov. Hogan has signed HB 120, a bill that will move the state’s seafood and aquaculture marketing program from the Department of Natural Resources back to the Maryland Department of Agriculture; HB 130, which creates a more efficient review and approval process for applications submitted to the Maryland Wine & Grape Promotion Fund; and HB 155 which creates a more efficient review and approval process for termination of an easement granted by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund.