WESTMINSTER -- Maryland farmers, suffering their worst year since 1985, were told last night to expect to pay higher fees next year for a variety of services offered by the state.
Steven A. Connelly, the Department of Agriculture's legislative specialist, said that the department might raise fees for things such as the commercial pesticide applicator's license, riding stable inspections, and having a state lab determine the cause of death of a farm animal.
Secretary of Agriculture Robert L. Walker told about 45 farmers who gathered at the Comfort Inn here last night that raising fees was not something the department wanted to do but that it was necessary to help offset a $4 million, or 20 percent, cut in the department's budget.
Several farmers who attended the public meeting with the Agriculture Commission, an advisory board to the secretary, predicted that farmers would refuse to pay an increased animal autopsy fee, even if that jeopardized the health of the rest of their herd and their neighbors' livestock.
Although net farm income is expected to be off 35 percent in the state this year, there were no complaints from farmers about tough times. But David Weitzer, a dairy industry representative on the commission, warned that because of the drought and the low government support price for milk, a number of Carroll County dairy farmers would go out of business.
Mr. Walker noted that when all aspects of agriculture are considered, it's the state's largest industry, employing 13 percent of the work force and accounting for about $11 billion in sales.