New commission to coordinate government, agriculture


July 09, 2006|By TED SHELSBY

A new commission intended to safeguard the profitability of Maryland farming by improving the coordination among government agencies and agriculture groups has been established by the state.

The Intergovernmental Commission on Agriculture, made up of members of farm organizations, government agencies and up to 10 citizens, will be charged with ensuring that state agencies work in cooperation with local governments and industry groups in planning and implementing governmental farming initiatives.

Agriculture officials say the commission addresses a pressing need in the industry. "We are not always dancing to the same music," said John R. Brooks, deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Brooks said the state plans to be active in bringing its input to the table but letting county officials make decisions.

"What I don't want, in any shape or form, is to give the impression that the state knows everything about how to manage agriculture issues," he said. "It is not going to be a situation where we say, `This is the way you have to do it.' That is not the way I want to do business."

As outlined in an executive order by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the commission's responsibilities will include:

Promoting a business-friendly climate for agriculture by serving as a liaison between the governor, local governments and industry organizations.

Improving the economic and regulatory climate for agriculture.

Making recommendations for programs and policies that are in step with Maryland's agricultural strategy.

Voting members of the commission will include representatives from the Maryland Farm Bureau, the Rural Maryland Council, the Maryland Association of County Planning Officers, the Maryland Association of Counties, the state Municipal League and the state Association of County Health Officers.

Membership also includes citizens with interest or expertise in agriculture.

Nonvoting members will include five members of the governor's Cabinet: the secretaries of planning, health and mental hygiene, natural resources, environment, and economic development.

The dean of the University of Maryland's School of Agriculture and Natural Resources will also serve as a nonvoting member.

Brooks said he hopes that the commission will be operating in several months.

Levying fines

Though compliance by farmers in state nutrient-management programs has improved, agriculture officials are running out of patience with those who have not complied.

Officials say 83 percent of the farms - representing 90 percent of Maryland farmland - have met the requirements of the law, intended to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

Agriculture officials are quick to praise farmers for complying with the "more farmer-friendly" regulations of the Water Quality Improvement Act approved by the General Assembly in 2004.

But the state is determined to achieve full compliance and has begun to levy fines in recent weeks on those farmers who have not, according to Douglas Scott, assistant agriculture secretary.

Eight farms have been fined $350 each for failure to have nutrient-management plans in place, he said.

However, four of the farms have signed consent agreements to establish plans within 60 days.

The others have ignored the citations, Scott said, and face the $350 fines, which could rise to $10,000 per day.

"Our goal is full compliance; we don't want to fine people," Scott said.

Collection of the fines would be handled by the state's central collection agency, and people owing money might not be able to have their driver's license or vehicle tags renewed.

Vaccine recall

Your pet's last rabies shot may not prevent rabies.

That's what state officials are warning after a disclosure that Fort Dodge Animal Health, one of the nation's leading manufacturers of rabies vaccine, is recalling 330,000 doses of rabies vaccine sold nationwide because of possible defects.

A least one dog in Connecticut has contracted the deadly disease after being vaccinated.

Kelly Goss, a spokeswoman for Fort Dodge, said that some of the doses were shipped to Maryland, but she could not say how many. Most of the vaccinations from the questionable batch of vaccine were done between January and May.

Goss said that veterinarians providing the vaccinations should have notified pet owners to bring their animals back to be vaccinated again free of charge.

The company identified the questionable shipment as Rabvac 3 TF Serial 873113A.

Goss said pet owners with questions can contact the company at 800-533-8536.

Better pinto beans

New lines of pinto beans resistant to diseases that could destroy up to 60 percent of a farmer's crop are the latest contribution coming from the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

The new lines are resistant to common bean rust and several plant viruses. Bean rust causes a plant to lose leaves, which reduces the amount of beans produced.

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