Harris Meets With Ag Community

CORDOVA — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris discussed agricultural concerns Tuesday, April 18, in a roundtable discussion at the Triple Creek Winery in Cordova.

Harris, R-Md.-1st, met with members of the Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester agriculture community, including farmers, and representatives from Maryland Department of Agriculture, Talbot County Council, University of Maryland Extension office, Maryland Grain Producers, Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, Caroline and Talbot farm bureaus along with other government officials.

The discussion was moderated by Kurt Fuchs, government affairs officer for Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit.

The topics of the discussion included crop insurance, deer management, conservation programs and most importantly to the group — trade.

The conversation began with Harris addressing the room and saying he has heard a lot of concerns regarding the new administration and trade deals. Harris said he feels that the president will be able to negotiate very well to ensure our products do not have a disadvantage.

Lindsay Thompson, executive director of Maryland Grain Producers, raised the concern of grain trade and said grain exports are really important to the Eastern Shore.

“I think a lot of people may not realize that because we have such great customers here in the poultry industry; almost 100 percent is consumed here on Delmarva,” Thompson said. “But those trade markets — alternative fuels, ethanol and the biofuels has been a huge export market that helps to support our base price, which supports the grain market as a whole.”

“The backing off of supporting ethanol right now is not the right time,” said Paul Spies, owner of Triple Creek Winery.

“We need whatever we can do to grow commodity pricing and sales of our commodities,” Spies said. “That might mean an extra 50 cents for our poultry industry. Foreign trade in ethanol is our only hope for price riding.”

As grain farmers, the biggest problem is that “U.S. consumption isn’t rising,” Jason Scott said. Scott is a Dorchester County farmer and chairman of the U.S. Wheat Associates.

“The growth markets are South East Asia, Latin America, Africa and those exports are a huge part of the dollars we get back here on the farm,” Scott said.

Grain was not the only trade concern mentioned; dairy, especially the milk trade, has been affected due to not having an export market, said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations at Maryland Farm Bureau.

“The two big things in Maryland is dairy and poultry are really hurting due to lack of exports,” Ferguson said. “We are actually dumping fluid (milk).”

He said losing the Asian market, specifically China and Russia, has substantially hurt the industry.

“Inconsistent market access is our biggest hurdle,” Ferguson said.

State Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, raised the concern over the deer population in Maryland. He said there is a way to tweak the management programs.

“You want to manage the deer, you don’t want to eliminate all of them, but you want to have the tools to remove them when it’s time to remove them,” Mautz said. “We are finding area after area where we don’t have those tools.”

He asked Harris to help bolster that program and said it would be a big help for the agriculture community. Mautz said he has five food banks in Maryland that are willing to take any ground venison that can be provided to them.

Ferguson said the issue with deer harvesting is that through the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services audit, they determined in 2012 that using fees from hunting licenses to fund the rendering of deer was not an appropriate use of funds.

“Easiest thing to do is just to convince them it is,” Harris said. “It’s a case of federal government getting in the way.”

Fuchs said one of the most important things to local farmers is making sure they are good stewards of the land and they are conserving it. One of the key components of that is conservation programs through the Farm Bill.

The room discussed the benefits and the downfalls of the National Conservation Practices Standards but continually went back to issues of international trade.

Harris asked several followup questions to each topic and continued to take notes throughout the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Harris was presented with a Friend of the Farm Bureau Award from John Draper, second vice president of Maryland Farm Bureau.

“It is so nice that the congressman is able to sit down with local constituents in a small group and really listen,” Jennifer Williams, Talbot County Council president, said. “It speaks to (who) he truly is versus what we hear about him in the media.”

“He was very responsive, asking pertinent questions and he was taking lots of notes, you truly get the feel he was listening,” Williams said.

“It’s always great to hear from farmers in the district, they are so important to the economy on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” Harris said. “The federal government over the last couple of years tended to lose sight that over-regulation by the federal government can harm an industry.

“As we hear the ag approbations bill or the EPA appropriations bill we will bring up some of these issues and try to correct them through the bill or with the departments directly,” Harris said.

“It’s important to hear from members of the ag community and to learn from them what their views are on federal issues, and how those issues relate directly to our state,” Mautz said.

“When you live it, you know it,” he said. “But we don’t live it, so I am here learning as much as I am providing input.”

“There is no better way to know what is going on than going out to talk to people,” Mautz said. “These are the experts, and it’s great to sit down with them, and for the congressman to realize that and take the time to come together.”

Source: Star Democrat