Good Year on the Farm

December 29, 1990

Most Maryland farmers are ending the year on the profitable side. Feed grain yields this autumn were considerably above average. Soybeans reached a record 33 bushels an acre in November. Corn that same month averaged 110 bushels, second highest in Maryland history. These and other agricultural products, directly or indirectly, help feed much of metropolitan Maryland.

The wonder is, despite rapid growth in the suburbs, state agriculture not only survives but remains one of the state's soundest industries. Not all farmers, however, share the success.

Last spring, a late frost moved across Western Maryland and killed up to 75 percent of the peach crop. Other fruits, such as apples, fortunately went unharmed. The state's livestock, including one of the largest chicken broiler industries in the nation, continues to thrive.

Early winter is dealing a severe loss to California's lemon, orange, avocado and strawberry crops. In Maryland, the natural rotation to winter wheat and barley help local growers withstand bad weather. Even so, the balanced plans of agriculture experts may not be enough to slow the loss of farmland to housing.

Maryland is losing 50,000 acres of farmland each year. The crops and livestock cannot be replaced; nor can the food processing, distribution and retail jobs they help support. The state and many counties have tried to save the land by buying easements from farmers. Such programs preserve farmland while allowing the owner and family to continue to live there and work the fields.

Not all state agriculture is dedicated to fruit, vegetables or livestock. Horse racing, a Maryland custom since Colonial times, has developed into a healthy industry that now produces state thoroughbreds that race throughout the world.

Other types of farming are surfacing, too. For instance, some farmers are turning stream-fed ponds into aquaculture enterprises. Instead of fruit and vegetable stands, they offer freshly raised trout. It may be different, but it is helping a growing Maryland fill one of its most basic needs.

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