WESTMINSTER — Agriculture remains a viable business in Carroll, and the county is working to ensure it survives, a county planner told farmers Wednesday.
"Carroll County has been blessed with a favorable climate, goodsoil and a hard-working community," said K. Marlene Conaway, planning department bureau chief, at the annual Mid-Winter Meetings sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service at the Agriculture Center.
"Agriculture overall has been part of the character of Carroll County," she said.
Conaway briefed farmers on the status of a reporton the future of agriculture that was written by a committee of farmers and business people and presented to the County Commissioners last April.
Preserving land for farming is a challenge in a county where people are flocking to live, she said. The county's population has almost doubled in the last 20 years, to about 125,000 residents.
The county's master plan calls for development around the eight municipalities, which will help save the scenic vistas of the countryside, Conaway said.
County and municipal leaders discussed the report at the first Town/County Partnership Conference last month in Westminster, she said.
The commissioners already have implemented two of the committee's recommendations by appointing an agriculture representative to the county Economic Development Commission and by forming an advisory Agricultural Commission.
Medford farmer Melvin E. Baile Sr., who chaired the committee, said he's pleased with how the report has been received by the commissioners. The committee will disbandafter it finishes a study on zoning ordinances, he said.
Volunteers contributed about 1,200 hours to preparing the report, Baile said.
The report shows that 9 percent of the county's population is employed in agricultural-related activities, and that agriculture is a $100 million-a-year industry here.
Traditional farms have been changing, though. The number of dairy farms decreased by 55 percent from 1960 to 1989, said Conaway, who grew up on a dairy farm in South Carroll.
But the number of sheep farms increased 32 percent from 1982 to 1987, she said.
Over the same period, Conaway said, there has been a trend toward smaller farms.
The total number of acres devoted to farming decreased by 5 percent during that period, she said.
"The biggest threat to agriculture is the sprawl of houses across thefarmland," Conaway said.
The county has preserved about 40,000 acres of farmland through a state preservation program. For agricultureto remain viable, 100,000 acres -- or about one-third of the county's land -- need to be preserved, the report says.
The county also could save farmland from development by instituting a policy to allow development rights to be transferred from a farm to a more densely populated area, Conaway said.
Baile said this plan, which is being used in other Maryland counties, would allow a farmer in North Carroll, for example, to sell the development rights on one or more lots onhis property to a developer who wanted to build homes in South Carroll where the infrastructure is in place.
This would allow the farmer to preserve his equity in the land and help prevent suburban sprawl, Conaway said.
In a related matter, the Carroll County Farm Bureau will sponsor an informational forum to discuss a report from the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6, at the Agriculture Center.