Anguished 4-H'ers gain reprieve for cows Naval Academy to delay dairy farm's closure, auction only half the herd

July 22, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Until last week, the pending closure of the Naval Academy's dairy farm forebode a 4-H'er nightmare: 140 cows, sold at auction, most likely to folks in the hamburger business.

But an 11th-hour brainstorming session -- ironically, at a McDonald's -- has resulted in a tentative agreement to save up to half of the academy's herd. If it gains final approval from the academy, the agreement will keep alive an Anne Arundel County 4-H dairy program that's been run on the 865-acre Gambrills farm since 1992.

The flurry of maneuvers means 4-H members such as Rebecca Pritchett, 9, of Elkridge, likely won't be separated from the heifers they've cared for in recent months. Rebecca had even written to President Clinton, asking him to help save her heifer, Sugar.

"I love my cow very much," she wrote.

Help came not from Clinton, but from Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, who sponsored last week's brainstorming session with dairy farmers from his native Eastern Shore.

"I just think we've been losing too many farms," Gilchrest said, explaining his reasoning for trying to broker last-minute concessions from academy officials.

After a tour of the dairy operation last week, Gilchrest's entourage stopped at a local McDonald's to draw up a proposal to save some of the cows -- and potentially the entire farm. Gilchrest made his proposal Friday in a phone conversation with the academy superintendent, Vice Adm. John R. Ryan, who agreed to let 50 to 70 cows remain at the dairy farm for another year.

The academy declined to discuss the latest twist in the dairy farm saga.

"I'll confirm that Vice Admiral Ryan took a call from Representative Gilchrest," academy spokesman Cmdr. Mike Brady said, but he declined to discuss details of that conversation.

Gilchrest said, "Basically, Ryan accepted the agreement." Gilchrest said it would cost about $120,000 to keep the 4-H cows for a year and that he'd gotten preliminary support from members of the House Agriculture Committee and agriculture appropriations subcommittee for the funding.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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