USDA Offers Disaster Relief to 6 Eastern Shore Counties

A notice in the Maryland Farm Bureau’s Government Relations Bulletin (Edition #2, 2017-06-15) announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing disaster relief for several Maryland and Delaware Counties for periods of drought and rains during 2016. From the notice:

USDA is providing disaster relief in Delaware and Maryland from the drought of June 1, 2016 – Sept 29, 2016 and excessive rains from Sept 29 – Oct 10, 2016. USDA disaster declaration for Delaware includes the following contiguous counties in Maryland:

o Caroline
o Dorchester
o Kent
o Queen Anne’s
o Wicomico
o Worcester

Qualifying farmers have 8 months from the date of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s disaster declaration (May 16, 2017) to apply to their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) for emergency loans or assistance .

Useful Links

USDA Disaster Declaration Letter

FSA Contact Information (By County)

 

Next Gen Program Helps Beginning Farmers With Land Purchases

The Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program (NGFAP) offers land acquisition assistance to young and beginning farmers and will beginning accepting its initial round of applications in July. NGFAP has been in state law for a number of years but never received start-up funding until the 2017 Session.  The program is based under the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO).

An initial explanatory sheet has been released explaining how NGFAP works and what interested farmers will need to qualify. From the explanatory sheet:

The NGFAP is basically a rapid-response, farmland conservation easement-option-purchase program, designed to help facilitate the transfer of farmland to a new generation of farmers, while also effectively helping to preserve agricultural land from future development. MARBIDCO expects to have nearly $2.5 million to distribute to selected “Next Gen Farmers” during the coming fiscal year (when their farms are being purchased).

Essentially, the NGFAP allows MARBIDCO to provide a qualified “beginner farmer” with a farm purchase down-payment to meet the equity requirements of a commercial lender (in order to help the bank make a farm purchase loan). …

Through the NGFAP, MARBIDCO will pay up to 51% of the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the agricultural land only (with a cap of $500,000) with these funds being provided as a down-payment at a real estate settlement. The Next Gen Farmer will then have a period of several years to sell the permanent conservation easement on the farm to a rural land conservation program (thus extinguishing the development rights on the property forever).  If the Next Gen Farmer cannot sell the permanent easement within the specified timeframe, the option will be exercised (for no additional money) to grant the easement to a “default easement holder” (most likely either the county agricultural land preservation program or a farmland conservation program selected by MARBIDCO).

MARBIDCO anticipates that the NGFAP application materials will be available for viewing on its website by July 1, 2017. …

Further information about the NGFAP may be obtained by contacting Allison Roe, MARBIDCO Financial Programs Associate, at (410) 267-6807, or by visiting MARBIDCO’s website at www.marbidco.org (after July 1st).

Useful Links

MARBIDCO Website

Agritourism Challenged By State & County Regulations According to Advocate

A Delmarva Farmer article (2017-06-06) reported on comments made by Grow & Fortify founder Kevin Atticks before the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission on Agriculture (GICA) regarding the challenges agritourism and value-added agriculture face as a result of State and local regulations. Conduit Street previously reported on the June 2 GICA meeting and the Delmarva Farmer article provides some additional details on Atticks’ comments. Grow & Fortify is an organization that advocates for agritourism and value-added agriculture.

Atticks called out the need for better education and clarity from local governments. From the Delmarva Farmer article:

If the state wants to boost value-added agriculture, it needs to do a better job helping counties understand where agricultural activity ends and commercial enterprise begins, a regional advocacy organization said last week. …

At the state and local level it’s often unclear what’s allowed or how an [agritourism or value-added agricultural] activity is defined, leaving local regulatory officials guessing. It leads to inconsistent regulatory enforcement across the state and stunts the growth of value-added agriculture, Atticks said.

The article described a hypothetical proposed by Atticks where a lavender farm that wanted to build a barn to host baking classes could be categorized as a commercial activity, triggering food and fire safety regulations and water and septic system requirements. In the article Atticks also stressed that there are times where regulations or prohibitions are needed and that some counties have been working to update their regulations to better address the needs of agritourism and value-added agriculture:

Crackdowns on farm wedding venues have become somewhat popular, Atticks said.

Occasionally, it’s warranted, he said.

“We are not proponents of someone buying a farm and turning it into a wedding venue or a conference center,” he said.

In some situations, counties are taking it upon themselves to ease and clarify their regulatory process for value-added agriculture.

Charles County, for instance, has started looking seriously at the issue, and so has Frederick County, he said.
“Frederick was tough to deal with,” Atticks said.

For four years, the county had no new value-added agricultural businesses. Now, it’s anticipating more than 20, he said.

Atticks will be part of MACo’s June 12th agritourism symposium “Make Agritourism a Bumper Crop in Your County.” The symposium will identify the challenges posed by agritourism both from a regulator and practitioner perspective and will hold facilitated discussions to propose potential solutions to those challenges. For further information on the symposium click here.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Atticks Presentation to GICA

Grow & Fortify Website

Intergovernmental Agriculture Commission Talks Agritourism, Milk, Grant Opportunities

Today the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission for Agriculture (GICA) held its first meeting of 2017. GICA meets twice a year. The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has a seat on the Commission, currently held by MACo Board Member and Talbot County Councilmember Laura Price.

Kevin Atticks and Kelly Dudeck of Grow and Fortify presented on how counties and the State can promote value-added agriculture, including agritourism, within their jurisdictions. They highlighted 22 recommendations made by the group in a report prepared for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council last year.

State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci reported on inspection guidelines for wedding barns, indicating that he intends to relax enforcement of sprinkler requirements for certain events held in barns.

Kirk Engle, representing the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, discussed how the Department partners with dairy farmers and producers to ensure compliance with state and federal laws. The first thing he advises new contacts, he told the group, is to contact their county planning and zoning office to ensure compliance with county land use laws and policies.

Finally, Rural Maryland Council Executive Director Charlotte Davis presented on grant opportunities through the Council, including the Prosperity Investment Fund, which provides grants to county governments and others for projects which improve quality of life in rural Maryland, including infrastructure development. Proposals are due June 9.

Presentations and minutes from the meeting will be made available on GICA’s website. 

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick attended the meeting.

Caroline County Tackles Solar Siting and Tax Issues

Two work groups formed at the behest of the Caroline County Board of County Commissioners to study solar siting and tax issues held a joint inaugural meeting on May 25. The Work Groups heard information presentations from MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Open Renewables President Cyrus Tashakkori.

The Commissioners formed the work groups in response to several utility scale solar projects that have been proposed in the county and want to make sure that land use and tax structures are in place to properly manage such projects going forward. The membership of the work groups is drawn from different stakeholder groups and includes county, agricultural, utility, and energy developer representatives.

Tashakkori provided an overview of: (1) how solar panels work; (2) the construction processes for installing and decommissioning utility scale solar sites; (3) operational impacts of solar sites; (4) taxation issues; (5) the status of utility scale solar in Caroline County; and (6) best practices for utility scale solar. Knapp discussed: (1) how the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) application process works; (2) CPCN process changes due to the passage of the 2017 MACo legislative initiative on solar siting (HB 1350); and (3) factors and issues the work groups may wish to consider in their deliberations.

The work groups are expected to issue recommendations and options to the Commissioners at the conclusion of their work in several months.

Useful Links

MACo Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

Open Road Renewables Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

HB 1350 of 2017

 

Harford County Enacts New Incentives to Protect Agricultural Land from Development

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has signed legislation enacting new incentives to protect key agricultural land that might otherwise be sold for development.

According to a Harford County press release,

The legislation provides cash incentives for farmland owners to enter the county’s existing agricultural preservation program. The new incentives make the county program more competitive with the state’s program, which has limited availability. The new law affects two specified areas adjacent to the county’s development envelope, one in Jarrettsville/Forest Hill and another in Churchville, in support of the Green Infrastructure Plan established in HarfordNEXT, the countywide master plan.

“My administration proposed this legislation to help protect Harford County’s rural heritage and our rural villages, and to focus growth in the areas that are intended for development,” said County Executive Barry Glassman.

Funding for the incentive program will come from a portion of the county’s transfer tax revenue, which also funds Harford County’s existing agricultural preservation program. The one-time cash incentives are estimated at $1,000 per acre and will be based on criteria approved by the Dept. of Planning & Zoning. The incentive payments would be in addition to the price paid to qualifying landowners for selling development rights easements in the existing county program. That price is based on formulas and an evaluation of the underlying land. Once development rights are purchased by the county, new non-agricultural structures that a property owner may build on the property are severely restricted, thereby forestalling residential or other types of development.

The legislation entitled “Agricultural Preservation Easement Incentive” was passed by the County Council on May 18; it becomes effective July 17, 2017. The full text of the legislation is published on the county website at http://hcgweb01.harfordcountymd.gov/Legislation/Bill/BillDetail/17-005.

Read the full press release for more information.

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Approve Land Preservation Funds

Using state grants and matching funds, Queen Anne’s County Commissioners voted May 9, to allocate about $500,000 of county earmarked funds for preservation assistance — which will result in a total of $2.5 million to preserve farmland in the county.

The Kent Island Bay Times reports,

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation will match each county dollar with two state dollars to prevent, forever, farmland from being converted to residential or commercial use. Created by the General Assembly in 1977, the MALPF purchases agricultural preservation easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland and has permanently preserved land in Maryland.

Donna Landis-Smith of the Queen Anne’s County Soil Conservation District told the commissioners that the maximum they could invest was $1.3 million; however, the funds budgeted for MALPF were just shy of half of a million dollars. That half a million dollars of county funds currently earmarked for MALPF coverts to about $2.5 million. Smith said that there are eight properties in the county in the current easement cycle that was submitted to the state to participate in MALPF.

Commissioner Jim Moran said by using the budgeted amount — much of which comes from agricultural transfer taxes — the county could probably fund four or five of the applicants.

According to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation FY16 Annual Report, more than 300,000 acres statewide have permanently been preserved. Queen Anne’s County has 166 easements totaling 28,464 acres of preserved farmland and ranks third in the state for total acres preserved.

Read the full article for more information.

Maryland Just Got Its First Licensed Grower of Medical Cannabis

Regulators have issued the first license to grow medical marijuana in Maryland, allowing a sprawling 2-acre warehouse in Anne Arundel County to immediately start cultivating the drug.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant final approval to a company called ForwardGro, more than four years after the state first legalized the medicinal use of cannabis.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

“A new industry in Maryland has been launched,” said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. “They can start to grow immediately.”

ForwardGro officials said they expect their product to be available to patients early this fall.

“I’m overjoyed,” said Gail Rand, the company’s chief financial officer. She started lobbying the Maryland General Assembly more than five years ago to legalize marijuana in the hope that the drug would minimize her son Logan’s epileptic seizures. One of the company’s initial cannabis strains was selected to treat Logan’s symptoms.

ForwardGro was the first of 15 companies granted preliminary licenses in August 2016 to earn final approval to grow the drug. Since then, the industry has been subject to political controversy and two lawsuits over how the potentially lucrative licenses were awarded.

Wednesday’s approval of ForwardGro follows the emergency request of a medical marijuana company in Baltimore Circuit Court Monday to prevent the commission from issuing any final licenses.

Alternative Medicine Maryland, which is led by an African-American and did not receive a preliminary license, alleged in a lawsuit last year that the commission broke the law by failing to use a race-conscious application process.

Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams has not ruled on the emergency motion. An attorney for Alternative Medicine Maryland said a hearing on the motion is scheduled for May 25.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic legislative leaders are considering recalling lawmakers for a special legislative session at which they would discuss how to increase diversity among medical marijuana growers.

Maryland lawmakers first approved medical marijuana in 2013, but the program relied on academic institutions to distribute the drug, and none volunteered.

The legislature revamped the program the following year and empowered an existing medical marijuana advisory commission to become regulators and invent the industry from scratch.

Maryland has been among the slowest states in the country to get a medical marijuana program off the ground.

“We’re glad to see that Maryland regulators are finally getting medicine into the hands of patients, who have been waiting too long,” said Kate Bell, a lawyer with the Marijuana Policy Project advocacy group.

As of Wednesday, 6,500 patients had applied for the medical marijuana program, commission officials said, and 276 physicians had registered to recommend the drug.

“This is the most delightful part of being on this commission,” Commissioner Saundra Washington said moments before the panel approved the first medical marijuana growing license. “To see this day finally come to fruition is extremely emotional for those of us who have advocated for this.”

Read the full article for more information.

Frederick County Council Approves Solar Bill

Solar arrays — albeit in a limited form — could soon be allowed on agricultural land in Frederick County after the County Council approved a bill to govern their size and placement Tuesday.

In a 4-2 vote, the council OK’d a compromise bill more than a year in the making that will allow solar arrays of up to 75 acres on certain parts of agricultural land in the county.

According to The Frederick News-Post,

“I think we are beginning the process of embracing solar in Frederick County, but it’s going to take us a little while,” the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), said before voting. “This is where we are at the time.”

She was joined in supporting the bill by Democrats Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald, as well as Council President Bud Otis, who is unaffiliated.

Republican councilmen Tony Chmelik and Billy Shreve voted against the bill; the council’s third Republican, Kirby Delauter, was absent from the meeting.

Shreve offered four amendments to the bill, none of which ultimately passed. He also read statistics from a poll conducted on behalf of Coronal Energy — one of the solar companies looking to install a large solar array on Frederick farmland — that showed a majority of the residents they contacted would support “more large scale utility solar farms.”

“The last thing we want to do is kill green jobs. We don’t want to kill clean energy,” Shreve said. “I don’t know why the Democrats up here are going this direction and absolutely do not support solar energy in Frederick County. This bill proves it.”

But Keegan-Ayer said the bill allowed the industry — and those farmers who want to be part of it — to move forward in a measured way, something that seemed unlikely when the county was considering more restrictive legislation in 2016 and earlier this year.

The new bill creates a floating zone for large commercial solar arrays that can be applied to agricultural properties from 10 to 750 acres. Solar panels can cover only 10 percent of the tillable acres of the parcel or multiple contiguous parcels, up to 75 acres. The bill also prevents commercial solar development on land with prime farmland soils, as identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil survey of Frederick County.

For land within a 2-mile buffer along each side of U.S. 15 from Frederick to the Pennsylvania border, solar applicants would have the burden of ensuring that the projects would not be visible from the road, which is designated as part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

Commercial solar development on limited industrial and general industrial zones is still allowed. Homes and businesses would be allowed to have accessory panels to generate up to 200 percent of a property’s energy usage.

Keegan-Ayer and Chmelik each discussed a proposal from the solar industry that would have implemented a county-wide 1.5 percent cap on agricultural solar fields, as opposed to the cap on individual parcels in the bill.

Capping it at 1.5 percent of farmland would have been about 3,000 acres, Keegan-Ayer said.

“So 3,000 acres of our prime farmland could be taken out of production to put solar panels on it. I’m not sure that that’s truly where we want to go yet,” Keegan-Ayer said.

Chmelik, though, shared a concern that the smaller parcels could lead to a sort of “solar sprawl” with many smaller fields dotting the landscape.

“Do I want to see one large solar array, or do I want to pass multiple ones on my way?” Chmelik asked, imagining a drive across the county. “… I can’t support it because I think it’s going to, in the end, potentially cause us to have this patchwork of solar arrays all over, rather than being able to concentrate them in certain areas.”

Donald said he originally supported more restrictive legislation, but came around to supporting this bill.

“This is one of those situations where people kind of came together and came up with the best plan they could. And sometimes that’s what we have to go with,” Donald said, noting the newness of the industry in the county.

The bill will move on to the county executive’s office. Unless vetoed, it will take effect in 60 days, according to the county charter.

Read the full article for more information.

Fun Fact: Did You Know that the Inventor of the Refrigerator Resided in Montgomery County?

Question: Did you know that the inventor of the refrigerator resided in Montgomery County?

Thomas Moore’s patent for the refrigerator

It’s true! An 1803 patent for a refrigerator (ice box) was granted to Thomas Moore and signed by President Thomas Jefferson. He was invited to the Moore home in Montgomery County, Md to see the new Refrigeratory.  A year later, in 1804, Jefferson paid “Isaac Briggs [Moore’s brother in law] for Thos. Moore 13.D for a refrigerator.” Thomas Moore coined the term “refrigerator” and patented it, which single-handedly put a huge twist on the agricultural business. Thomas Moore lived about twenty miles outside the city of Washington, for which the village of Georgetown was the market center. On his farm were dairy cows whose milk was churned into butter and taken to market to be sold. Moore devised an icebox out of a cedar tub which was insulated with rabbit fur, filled with ice, and wrapped in a piece of sheet metal so he could transport his butter at a cooler temperature. He was on the right track, for in the warmer months of the year, Moore noticed that people would pass up his competitors butter, which had softened up and often times melted, for his butter which was wrapped up and came in individual bricks.

What also made this stand out is that customers were willing to pay a premium for his product. Moore saw his invention as an improvement for farmers because now they didn’t have to rely on traveling at nighttime to keep their goods cool.

montgomerySource: Researching Food History blog and Waterfordhistory.org

Do you have a fun fact to share about your county? If so, please send it to Kaley Schultze to be featured in MACo’s weekly Fun Fact on Conduit Street.