Farmers warned to seek stability

Retiring agent says agriculture must adapt to inevitable changes

June 11, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Before letting David L. Greene head to retirement on his farm, local business people asked the longtime extension agent to offer his view of the future of farming in Carroll County.

"If the past is prologue," said Greene, "the future of agriculture surely looks bright."

But it won't be automatic, he told the monthly lunch meeting of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the Comfort Inn in Westminster yesterday.

"We need a period of stability for five to seven years for the long-term future of agriculture," Greene said. A period relatively free of the factors that surfaced this month, such as drought and impending state regulations on manure and fertilizer that could cost farmers a large chunk of their income.

Greene will retire July 1, after a 27-year career as a county extension agent. He has seen farms change during that time, but some characteristics have stood firm. He said 99 percent of all Carroll farms are family-owned. The county has one of the leading agricultural land preservation programs in the country. And Carroll raises more vegetables and hay than any other county.

"We grow more hay in Carroll County than the entire Eastern Shore put together," Greene said. "There's a reason for that. We have a lot of livestock to feed."

Carroll's hay and grain farmers are feeding not only livestock here, but also cattle and poultry in the rest of the state. Maryland livestock consume more grain than is raised in this state, mainly because of the Eastern Shore's broiler industry.

"Agriculture is in transition," said Greene. New agricultural enterprises are popping up, as they should, he said.

The county's traditional dairy, egg, beef cattle, grain and vegetable farms are being joined by more greenhouses and other livestock operations such as hog farming.

But farmers also are facing challenges. Prices are down for some crops, such as grain, and federal subsidies are disappearing, he said. Traffic is increasing, making it more dangerous for farmers to move equipment on roadways while irate drivers try to pass them. And as more residential development pops up, farmers face challenges from neighbors who might not be sympathetic to the smell of manure.

Greene said farmers can adapt to improve their lot. Crop insurance can make up for losses, he said. Using partnerships and cooperatives to buy supplies and sell commodities can save farmers money, too.

"They need to improve recordkeeping," Greene said. "How do you know if the price you're getting is a good one if you don't know what it cost you to produce? If one thing isn't making money, maybe you need to change what you're doing."

"If we are going to preserve all this farmland, and we do not make it a profitable industry, what happens?" asked Don Essich of Westminster, a retired beef and grain farmer.

"Well, you're going to have a lot of very attractive horse farms, I think," Greene said.

He said that farmers need to be supported and promoted as an industry, and that he had high hopes for the county's new agriculture marketing specialist, Gabe Zepp, who is charged with doing just that.

"That is why I think Gabe is so important," Greene said.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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