Farmers like what they hear: O'Malley's promises make a good first impression

On the farm

February 11, 2007|By Ted Shelsby

For a city slicker, he's OK.

That's the initial impression Gov. Martin O'Malley has had on farmers and agriculture officials around Maryland, some of whom have expressed surprise at the new governor's early interest in agricultural issues.

"He's trying to reach out to us," said Earl "Buddy" Hance, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, a lobbying organization that counts 27,250 farm families as members.

"We had a lot of reservations about him," Hance said. "He comes from the city and doesn't have a rural background. But he's already showing a lot of understanding and knowledge about agriculture."

Trey Hill, a 32-year-old Kent County farmer and president of the Young Farmers Advisory Board, concurred.

"He's doing a real good job, considering his city background. In every one of his speeches I've heard, Governor O'Malley has expressed his support for agriculture," Hill said.

Richard Hutchison, who farms about 3,000 acres near Cordova in Talbot County, likes what he sees and hears, but he is holding off on judgment.

"He is saying all the right things," Hutchison said of the governor, who took office Jan. 17. "Now we have to see if he is going to follow through on what he has been saying."

Hance is a former tobacco grower who grows flowers -- geraniums, impatiens and marigolds -- at his Port Republic farm for a wholesaler supplying Home Depot stores. He was at the Maryland Agricultural Council Dinner in Glen Burnie this month when the governor spoke.

"O'Malley got there early," Hance said. "He worked the crowd, and he stayed for the whole event. That's the first time I've ever seen a governor do that."

Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been "generally pleased" with what she has seen in the new governor. She said his appointments of Cabinet members -- including Roger L. Richardson as secretary of agriculture -- have been "good, solid selections."

Coble, who has worked to improve relations with the farm community in recent years, said she also was pleased to see the governor boost the cover crop program that helps prevent farm pollutants from making their way into the bay.

"He also seems to recognize the importance of agriculture and environmentalist working together," she said.

Over the years, farmers have been skeptical of new governors, and with good reason. They believe they have not always been treated fairly by the state in the past.

In the words of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., farmers were "unjustly demonized" and labeled "the bad boys" by the administration of Parris N. Glendening, which blamed the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay almost entirely on nutrient runoff from farmland.

O'Malley is singing a different tune.

"Maryland farmers are key partners in preserving Maryland's natural beauty and in helping restore the health and vitality of our state's greatest natural asset, the Chesapeake Bay," O'Malley said in a letter to more than 6,000 farmers.

The governor also said the Department of Business and Economic Development will work with agriculture officials "to do everything it can to give our farmers the resources they need to take advantage of opportunities to improve agricultural viability."

Other pledges to the farm community he has made since taking office include:

To triple the funding (to $3 million) this year for the Maryland Agricultural and Resource Based Industrial Development Corp. This is a quasi-public organization established by the General Assembly to provide loans to young farmers.

To assist in finding new markets for state-grown, -raised and -produced products such as corn, soybeans, fruits and vegetables.

To help in the development of an ethanol production plant and a soybean-crushing facility.

To increase funding for cover crops that farmers plant after harvesting corn or soybeans. Cover crops -- typically wheat, barley and rye -- grow during winter and draw excess nutrients from the soil.

To implement the 30 recommendations of a study completed last year on ways to help boost the profitability of farms and keep them in business.

"Without our farmers, without our farm families, Maryland would lose much of her natural beauty and character," O'Malley told the 700 farmers and elected officials attending the agriculture dinner. "Together, we will not allow this to happen."

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