15% rise in farm exports likely for Md., expert says But forecast is gloomy for state dairy farmers

November 18, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- Maryland agriculture exports, which have been growing faster than winter wheat during the rainy season in recent years, will likely benefit next year from the continued strong demand for food and grain overseas, an agriculture economist with the University of Maryland said yesterday.

Speaking at the 1998 Agriculture Outlook and Policy Conference, Bruce L. Gardner, former assistant secretary of agriculture in the Bush administration, said that U.S. farm exports should grow by about 15 percent next year.

He noted that the U.S. exported about a third of its farm production, equal to $60 billion, last year.

Maryland grabbed a small, but growing, slice of that market. State agriculture exports totaled $247 million last year, up 14 percent from $217 million in 1995.

Poultry is Maryland biggest export, totaling $90 million last year. It was followed by feed grain (primarily corn) at $65 million; soybeans and soybean products, $43 million; vegetables, $13 million; and tobacco, $11 million.

Gardner told agriculture officials at the all-day conference that the economic stability of farmers depends on exports. He said U.S. farm output is expected to rise 25 percent over the next decade, and the domestic market is not growing nearly that fast.

Gardner said the recent setback of President Clinton's "fast-track" authority for negotiating trade deals, was a setback for farmers too.

"Expansion of trade is very important for agriculture," Gardner said. "We need to keep opening new markets."

The conference was sponsored by the University of Maryland's Agricultural and Resources Economics Department and featured the views of more than a half dozen faculty members. It marked the return of the university's annual outlook conference after an absence of 10 years.

One of the gloomiest forecasts had to do with Maryland dairy farmers.

Howard Leathers, an associate professor, said farmers are caught in a cost price squeeze that has has already forced 25 percent of the dairy farms out of business since 1990.

He did not see any immediate relief, although he predicted that milk prices would increase modestly before the end of the year.

Although Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in August that he would support legislation in the next session of the General Assembly to boost the profits of dairy farmers, Leathers said, "There is some doubt how strong he will push for it."

Fruit and vegetable production is expected to remain stable with a larger percent of the crop going to supermarkets eager to advertise locally grown produce or sold at roadside stands.

Maryland farmland acreage will continue to decline as residents leave Baltimore and Washington in favor of suburban living, said Loretta Lynch, an assistant professor.

She said the biggest residential growth will be experienced by Calvert, Carroll, Howard and Frederick counties.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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