Harris makes several stops on Shore in agricultural tour

Managing Editor

CORDOVA, Md. (April 25, 2017) — Touring Maryland’s Eastern Shore last week, Rep. Andy Harris got a heavy dose of agriculture in several meetings with industry representatives and stops at farms.
Agricultural stops for Harris included a roundtable discussion at Triple Creek Winery with state farming leaders, joining poultry growers at the annual Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. Booster Banquet, touring environmental practices employed at Hambleton Creek Farm and touring Langenfelder Pork in Kennedyville, Md.
“Anytime you can have elected officials out to a farm, the benefits are tremendous,” said Kurt Fuchs, governmental affairs officer for MidAtlantic Farm Credit, who moderated the roundtable discussion. “Being able to communicate our issues directly helps solve problems and keeps the legislators informed.”
In Congress, Harris is a member of the House Committee on Appropriations and sits on subcommittees for agriculture, rural development and labor issues.
At Triple Creek, comments to Harris focused largely on the importance of maintaining and expanding foreign trade. Lindsay Thompson, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, said while the local poultry industry uses nearly all of the states grain, a healthy export market still affects the base price used to buy and sell grain locally.
Paul Spies, a grain farmer whose family owns the Triple Creek Winery and vineyard, said ethanol production is another necessary part of supporting the grain market.
“Foreign trade and ethanol is our only hope for prices rising,” Spies said.
Jason Scott, a Dorchester County farmer and chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, said federal programs to develop and grow foreign markets have not increased since the 2002 farm bill and a coalition of ag groups is pushing for funding to double in the next Farm Bill.
“Those are very very important programs to us and we hope to keep it in the Farm Bill and hopefully expand it,” Scott said.
Spies added maintaining relationships with countries through those programs goes a long way in exporting agricultural products when competing countries are “just a doorbell ring away.”
“It’s like knowing your kids,” Spies said. “For these foreign countries, different things are important. You don’t just send them a survey, you have to service that country and know them.”
Fuchs asked for Harris’ support in updating USDA guaranteed loans, many of which help young farmers buy farms. He said Farm Credit is advocating raising the cap on the loans from $1.4 million per individual to $2.5 million. Raising the cap would lessen farmers having to piece together multiple loans in order to secure land and farm businesses.
“It’s certainly a worthwhile investment in the future of agriculture in that it helps so many young farmers get their start,” Fuchs said.
Shifting to land stewardship, several at the table emphasized the importance of keeping federal dollars to go toward best management practice cost-sharing, where the state is viewed as a leader.
“It’s so important,” said Jenny Rhodes, agriculture Extension agent in Queen Anne’s County. “When we travel around the country, we’re just so far ahead of everyone else.”
They said the federal funding is also important in helping farmers meet state permit obligations that mandates using the federal standard for buildings which they argued are often “overbuilt” for its purpose.
“The analogy we hear is ‘why do we need a Cadillac when a Dodge k-car will get the job done?’” Fuchs said.
Conservation was the main topic at Hambleton Creek Farms near Chestertown, where farmer Sam Owings showed Harris several of the enhanced filter strips he’s installed on the farm. The strips, installed along field and forest edges, are a series of excavated cells designed to keep water from leaving the farm during large rain events. Owings said the systems can handle up to a 3.5 inch to 4 inch rain event before they overflows int a creek.
“Any farmer that’s got some kind of little digging equipment can build one of these things,” Owings said. “It’s just a more aggressive look at stormwater.”
Owings’ oldest system was monitored by University of Maryland researchers for a year and showed 65-percent reductions in sediment and total nitrogen and a 60-percent reduction in total phosphorus.
“What I like is that they’re technologically simple solutions,” Harris said.
Mark Williams, president of Centerville, Md.-based Earth Data, said he’s worked with Owings and the researchers to develop a design guidance manual to streamline system installation on other farms.
“We wanted it to be reproduceable and not be an expensive project,” Williams said. “Here’s what I can tell you: It works. It’s an impressive reduction in sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus.”