More details about how the 1990 Farm Bill will affect county farmers will be available early next year, but farmers should prepare for more environmental restrictions, conservation programs and flexibility in grain subsidies.
"There's a lot more emphasis on the environment and programs to assist farmers in conservation planning," said Elizabeth A. Schaeffer, Carroll executive director of the U.S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, which allocates federal money to county farmers.
"The bottom line is the Farm Bill is more flexible and allows (farmers) to react to the market better," she said.
Farmers will have more options about what and how much they may plant and still qualify for federal subsidies, she said.
The ASCS office works with about 300 county farms. Last year, farmers here received about $2 million in cost-sharing money to implement conservation measures and for subsidies that help keep grain production in line with demand.
Norman Astle, assistant director of public affairs for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the state association supported the bill, but has concerns about parts of it.
For example, Congress cut money from the dairy program to comply with deficit-reduction mandates and is charging farmers fees to make up some of it, Astle said.
Boyd Cook, division manager at Dairymen Inc., a co-op in Eldersburg, said Congress had agreed that if money had to be cut from dairy programs, the government would charge a fee rather than reduce support prices for milk products.
Farmers will be charged "a program service fee" of 5 cents for every 100 pounds of milk produced in 1991 and 11 cents for every 100 pounds produced from 1992 through August 1995.
Cook said the fee probably would cost the average dairy farmer who produces 1.2 million pounds of milk a year $600.
While dairy farmers won't be thrilled about paying the fee, they likely will see it as the lesser of two evils, Cook said. Reduced price supports would cost farmers a lot more, he said.
The Farm Bill includes a provision that says the fees a dairy farmer paid would be refunded if the farmer could prove his milk production had not increased from the previous year's level.
One environmental provision that will affect Carroll farmers is a new requirement that farmers and other certified applicators of pesticides keep records on the use of restricted pesticides.
Schaeffer predicted that some farmers may quit doing the spraying themselves and hire commercial applicators to avoid the hassles involved with bookkeeping.
The Farm Bill says the records must be maintained for two years and would be available to federal and state agencies and health-care personnel.
Another new provision establishes national standards for farm products labeled organic. Producers must specify production processes, materials, handling and testing.
The legislation also establishes an Office of Environmental Quality to evaluate effects of agriculture programs on the environment and coordinate efforts among agencies to improve the environment. The office could help reduce conflicting information county farmers might receive from different federal agencies on environmental issues, a Soil Conservation Service spokesman said.
More details about conservation programs, which Carroll farmers enthusiastically have participated in, will be available by February or March, Schaeffer said.
When she gets more information, she said, she will have a public meeting to explain the changes and allow farmers to sign up for programs.
In Carroll, about 1,200 acres are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, in which farmers take a percentage of their land out of production for 10 years in exchange for rent from the government, Schaeffer said. This program would be expanded under the new bill.