An economics lesson learned on the farm Tour: Three Baltimore County farms were visited yesterday to help members of Congress better understand agricultural problems.

August 27, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Standing in the shadow of five three-story grain storage towers, Charles E. Ensor said this summer's drought will probably cut his corn harvest in half in some fields.

But the diminished yield is far from his only concern, Ensor told Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, yesterday morning.

Ensor, who farms about 3,000 acres in a rolling valley along Cold Bottom Road in Sparks, said low commodity prices are of major concern this year and that Congress could help boost the price farmers get for their corn, soybeans and wheat with the passage of "fast-track" trade legislation giving the president the authority to negotiate international trade deals.

"The more competition we have for our grain, the better price we're going to get," Ensor said in explanation of the benefits of increased exports.

Ensor's grain farm was the first stop on a tour of three Baltimore County farms yesterday set up by the Maryland Farm Bureau to help members of Congress better understand the concerns of the state's agriculture industry.

They got an earful. Before the tour ended, the group was briefed on the need for migrant workers, the importance of dairy compact legislation, and of farmers' concern about about the Food Quality Protection Act, which could greatly limit their use of pesticides to control insects.

When the 14-car motorcade moved onto Eddie L. Armacost's vegetable farm in Upperco, the group heard that tighter regulatory restrictions on the use of migrant workers from Mexico or other countries would have a serious impact on agriculture.

"My problem is not getting enough labor," Armacost said of his using migrant workers from Mexico to help with the harvesting of sweet corn, pumpkins, cantaloupes and tomatoes from June to November.

"It gets tougher, tougher and tougher to get migrant help each year, and without them we are in serious trouble," Armacost told Ehrlich and congressional staff members representing Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Armacost said agriculture can't afford the $12 to $15 an hour that migrant workers can earn working for landscapers or construction companies.

"Because we are on the low end of the pay scale, agriculture is the first to get hurt by restrictions on migrant workers."

In answer to a question about proposed regulations restricting the use of pesticides, Ehrlich said he does not think that the Envi- ronmental Protection Agency, which is drafting the regulations, is following the intent of Congress.

The Food Quality Protection Act was passed in 1996. It was designed to protect consumers, especially children, by eliminating dangerous pesticides that may be linked to rising cancer rates and other physical problems. But farmers feel that the EPA is going too far in taking away important chemical tools.

Farmers want to make certain they have alternatives to use before the EPA imposes limits or bans on pesticides.

The Agriculture Department is taking a middle-of-the-road position on the issue, saying that some changes are needed but consumer protection and economic growth must go hand in hand.

The issue of dairy compact legislation came up at the last stop on the tour -- Austin Armacost's dairy farm in Upperco, about a mile and a half from his brother's vegetable farm.

Ehrlich said he was "leaning toward supporting" the legislation because it could halt the sharp decline in Maryland's dairy industry.

The state has lost 25 percent of its dairy farms since 1991 and 40 percent during the past 12 years.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening gives the state the right to seek membership in the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

Congress still has to approve the continuation of the 2-year-old Northeast compact and the addition of any new states.

Ehrlich said that compact legislation has been delayed and won't come to the floor until next year.

Austin Armacost said the milk legislation would benefit farmers and consumers by stabilizing prices at the farm and at grocery stores.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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