Maryland farmers appear to be producing more with less, increasing real cash receipts despite a loss of 800,000 acres of farmland since 1964.
According to a recent study by a 22-member panel appointed by the University of Maryland, agriculture is thriving despite pressures from development, labor shortages and governmental restrictions.
"There is a general feeling that agriculture has decreased, but agriculture has actually increased," said Raymond J. Miller, vice chancellor for agriculture and natural resources for the University of Maryland System and co-chairman of the panel.
Total cash receipts for Maryland agriculture grew from $667 million in 1975 to $1.4 billion in 1989, the panel found. Even after adjusting for inflation, the state's agriculture receipts grew more than 42 percent.
The panel said much of the growth can be attributed to large increases in the poultry, soybean, greenhouse, nursery and turf-grass industries. Decreases occurred in production of corn, wheat, tobacco, processed vegetables and peaches. Dairy and livestock production have declined in relative importance.
The study was conducted over the last year. The panel represented UM, state agencies, citizen groups and environmentalists. The report should be released to the public in the next two months, Miller said.
According to a draft of the report, the state's farmland has declined to 2.4 million acres from 3.2 million acres since 1964. Most of the decline has been in forest and pasture areas, with the number harvested acres remaining fairly constant.
Most of the conversion from farmland to development has occurred in Maryland's central and southern counties in recent years. This trend is likely to continue because these areas are closest to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan corridor, the report said. Only 7 percent of the state's farmland is enrolled in preservation programs. During the past decade, only one acre was enrolled in preservation for every three acres that were developed.
The study found that poultry is the No. 1 animal industry, while corn and soybeans used to feed those broilers dominate the state's field crop production.
Besides those staples, Maryland's agriculture is remarkably diverse, Miller noted. Cut flowers are becoming a major commodity in the state, and aquaculture is growing. The state's racing and pleasure-horse industries also are flourishing.