A Frederick News-Post article (2019-04-23) reported that Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner recently hosted a Agriculture Business Viability Roundtable that listened to feedback from farmers on ways to keep agriculture a viable industry in the County. The event was extremely well attended, with both large and small local farmers sharing their concerns about how to stay in business.
The article noted that the County has preserved nearly 65,000 acres of farmland but the County Executive remains concerned that farming itself also needs to remain profitable and sustainable.
Prior to hosting the roundtable, the County sent out a survey to farmers with questions and potential topics for discussion. From the article:
“If you don’t sit us down and let us air some of our issues, it never becomes marketable,” said Maryland Farm Bureau President Chuck Fry, who was invited to be one of the panelists at the Agriculture Business Viability Roundtable. …
“I think, for a first-time roundtable, it went very well. I think we had a good response to the survey. I thought we have good representation around the table,” Gardner said.
The roundtable focused on several key issues:
Property Tax Assessments: Attendees raised concerns over increasing property tax assessments that were largely driven by development and improvements around farms rather than on the farms themselves.
Malting Winter Cover Crops for Local Breweries and Distilleries: This proposal focused on establishing a malting facility in the County so that farmers who plant winter cover crops could have that grain malted and then sell it to local breweries and distilleries. Legislation allowing this was proposed but Delegate Ken Kerr during the 2019 Session but was later pulled due to logistic and implementation concerns. Kerr plans to reintroduce a modified version of the legislation for the 2020 Session.
Value-added Agriculture: The malting proposal factored into a larger discussion concerning the importance of value-added agriculture (taking a raw product and processing it into a more valuable product), especially for smaller farms. Surprisingly, despite more than $14.5 million in value-added products being sold from the County in 2017 many of the survey respondents expressed little interest in learning about them. The disparity could be a result of more traditional commodity farmers responding to the survey.
In the article, Gardner indicated that based on the success of the first roundtable, she will hold additional roundtables based on specific topics later this year.