Farmers oppose proposal to merge Agriculture and Natural Resources

January 22, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Budget cuts and the proposed merger of the state Department of Agriculture with the Department of Natural Resources dominated two sessions at the Carroll mid-winter farm meetings yesterday.

"I have not heard of any group supporting this [proposed Agriculture-Natural Resources] merger," said Donald Essich, chairman of the Carroll County Agriculture Commission, of the bill filed by Del. R. Clayton Mitchell, speaker of the House of Delegates.

"His [Mr. Mitchell's] support group appears to be made up of people that owe him something," Mr. Essich said.

The bill, which also proposes a 20 percent budget reduction if the combined agency is created, has been denounced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Butta Commission, a panel formed to study efficiency in state government.

The state Department of Agriculture has already taken a 25 percent budget cut, the largest of the state agencies, said Carroll County extension agent David Greene.

Agriculture accounts for one-third of 1 percent of the state budget.

"The Department of Agriculture would be consumed by another budget that is four times larger," said Mr. Essich.

He said he also is concerned about the Department of Land and Water Resources Police, which would be created in this proposal.

"It would only be a matter of time until we [farmers] would be policed by this group," said Mr. Essich, a Westminster grain farmer.

Budget cuts in the University of Maryland system have already had a strong impact on the cooperative extension agency and agricultural research, one of the 11 segments of that organization. The extension agency budget has been cut 34 percent since September 1990, Mr. Greene said.

Many programs in the horticulture and home economics departments -- such as programs on parenting, water quality control and home pest control -- have been eliminated or reduced, he said.

"In the extension agency, we always don't want to say 'no,' " he said.

"We still have that philosophy, but it is getting harder to adhere to."

Agricultural interests are under attack in surrounding states, too, Mr. Greene said. He said extension agencies and agricultural budgets in Virginia and Pennsylvania also have been severely cut in recent years.

"Obviously, people in this country are forgetting where their food supply comes from," Mr. Greene said. "They are also forgetting the need for diversification of agriculture.

"Sure, two or three of the Mid-western states could feed the entire nation. But what happens if there is a major drought in that area?"

Topics discussed at the second day of the two-day program yesterday also included worker protection, use of the pesticide atrazine and weed control.

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