State agricultural businesses have grown in past 15 years

One on one

July 29, 1991

One on One is a weekly feature offering exceThe Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Raymond J. Miller is president of the Maryland Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which oversees the Maryland Agriculture Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.

Q.How would you characterize the state of agriculture in Maryland today?

If you ask most people in the state of Maryland what has happened to agriculture over the last 15 years, they'll tell you it's decreased . . . Not true. It turns out that over the last 15 years, agriculture in the state of Maryland in real terms has increased about 42 percent. Those are real dollars. Now we've had some growth and we've had some decreasing industries. The poultry industry, of course, has increased significantly, as has the egg industry. Nursery and turf industries have become very large and very important in this state, and, of course, we don't even have the equine industry in agricultural statistics, so we really don't have good numbers on it, but I would suggest that over the last 15 years, it's increased significantly too. Now on the other side, we've had some decrease in dairy . . . tobacco, of course, has decreased. Corn has decreased, but it's been supplanted by soybeans. The fruit industry has decreased, and so on. Now we have lost land. We've lost a significant amount of land to development. But it turns out that our harvested acres have stayed about constant over the last 15 years.

Are the various state and federal programs and the programs at the University of Maryland sufficient to address the changing needs of agriculture?

A. I would say that if we have a deficiency, it is that we haven't been pro-active enough in some areas. For example, I don't think have been as involved as we maybe should have been in the land-use area, helping people understand what some of the options were, what some of the potential consequences, alternatives are and so forth. In some of the research areas, I'm not sure that we've looked at alternate industries, and begun to generate the knowledge base as soon as we should have.

What kind of work is done at the Maryland Agriculture Experiment Station?

We have the mandate to try to keep agriculture viable and competitive in its broadest sense by solving or preventing problems. Now to do that, you have to have a broad aray of programs going all the way from what I would call very fundamental programs to ones that are very applied or adapted. And so the Experiment Station will have that array of programs all the way from engineering to sociology, and we have programs in plant and animal agriculture, we have some programs in sociology, we have programs in economics, and so on.

Q. What are the goals of the Cooperative Extension Service?

The goal of the Cooperative Extension Service actually, if you really want to bring it down to real fundamentals, all of what we do is help people grow as individuals so that they can hopefully develop to their maximum capability.

Q. How does this apply directly to agriculture?

Well, again it goes back to those roots. When it was set up, that was still the major industry in the country . . . So a large part of the effort is in essence the transfer of agriculture knowledge to the city. But, you also have . . . two or three issues. A lot ofagricultural people will say, well, it was cut out to serve agriculture. Therefore, you shouldn't be working in the city. The city people will say, well, we're the taxpayers. Why shouldn't they be working with us? The issue is really somewhat different. It's that if agriculture and the food system is really going to survive and grow, you've got to have people living in the city that understand and know [agriculture] as well as [they do] in the rural communities.

Recently the Maryland Institute of Agriculture and Natural Services was formed to oversee both the Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service. Why was this umbrella organization created?

The Cooperative Extension Service and the Experiment Station have been separate components of the University of Maryland system for 15 or so years. So this is one of the steps in beginning to try to get at this lack of understanding as to what not only the Experiment Station and Extension are, but also what it is that they do and what they stand for.

Is this creation of an institute accompanied by a change of duties or a change of personnel?

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