On the subject of conservation - especially the protection of the Chesapeake Bay - the farmer's voice is rarely heard.
A good example of this came in 1997. That's when farm runoff was blamed almost entirely for the toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida that resulted in fish kills, closed parts of three rivers to recreational use and raised questions about the safety of Maryland seafood.
Lost in all the rhetoric was the fact that it was never proved that farm runoff had anything to do with the wave of Pfiesteria hysteria that swept the state.
Little press was afforded to statements by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who said nine years later that farmers had been unjustly "demonized" and labeled "the bad boys" by environmental groups.
There were no big headlines when one of the state's leading environmental organizations - the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - changed its direction in 2005 and embraced the protection of farms because it realized they were better for the environment than residential development.
Agriculture is Maryland's largest industry. Its contributions to the state's economy are gigantic. Economic development officials say that when phases of agriculture are considered, it's a $17 billion-a-year business.
Farmers play a key role in protecting natural resources, especially the bay.
The state Department of Agriculture recently listed some of agriculture's contributions to conservation. They included:
Since 1985, farmers have spent more than $11 million of their own money to match about $90 million in state cost-share funds to install more than 31,000 best-management practices to protect water quality.
They included the construction of manure storage structures, watering troughs for animals and fencing to keep livestock out of streams.
Those practices, such as the use of cover crops, have resulted in a significant achievement of Maryland's 2005 tributary strategy goals for agriculture, according to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.
Since 1985, Maryland agriculture has achieved a 54 percent nitrogen reduction, 70 percent phosphorus reduction and 54 percent sediment reduction toward the tributary strategy goal.
Cover crops are widely recognized as cost-effective and environmentally promising ways to reduce agricultural runoff into the bay and its tributaries.
Last year, farmers planted a record 244,000 acres of cover crops; this year they are on track to meet or exceed that.
Since 1999, about 252,000 tons of excess poultry litter and manure have been transported from regions of the state with high soil phosphorus to farms in other parts of the state.
Last year, about $357,000 in state cost-share funding to transport manure from poultry regions of the Eastern Shore was matched by Delmarva poultry companies.
As of Sept. 30 of last year, 98 percent of the state's 1.3 million acres of cropland and 96 percent of the state's 6,300 eligible farmers have nutrient management plans and are complying with the state's nutrient management laws.
Over the past 10 years, Maryland farmers have converted about 74,000 acres of environmentally sensitive farmland into streamside buffers, wetlands or other wildlife habitat areas.
This helps protect water quality in local streams and rivers by reducing soil erosion, controlling nutrient runoff and increasing wildlife habitat.
About 22 percent of all Maryland farmland is managed as woodland, which promotes sustainable forestry to provide clean water, improve stream health and prevent soil erosion.
More than half of the farms in targeted watersheds achieved the highest assistance rate available from the Conservation Security Program, a federal plan that provides funds for farmers who go the extra mile for conservation.
More farms in Maryland qualified in their first year of eligibility than any other state in the Northeast.
The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation has permanently preserved more than 265,000 acres of priority farmland for farming.
Maryland has the greatest ratio of farmland preserved to total landmass of any state in the nation.
The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, in conjunction with its counterpart at Penn State and the Penn State School of Forestry, will conduct a program to educate green industry professionals on managing backyard forests.
The program "Landscapes and Backyard Woodlots: Business Opportunities for the Green Industry" will be March 6 at the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in Gettysburg, Pa. Topics will include the establishment and maintenance of small tree plantations, recreational trails, wildlife habitat improvement and forest health.
There is a fee of $75 for those who register by Feb. 28 and $95 after that. The fee will cover lunch and program materials.
For additional information, contact Steve Bogash at 717-263-9226.
Ag markets seminar
"Changing Ag Markets - New Opportunities" is the title of a one-day seminar sponsored by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.
The event will be held March 5 at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. It starts at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 3:30 p.m.
Subjects to be covered include:
Growing profitable alternative energy crops
Carbon trading and green credits
Critical food trends and consumer preferences
Profitable livestock production
Farms in transition
The program will feature a panel discussion by farmers who are developing new products and tapping into new markets.
There is a registration fee of $25. This covers a continental breakfast, lunch and handouts.
Registrations are due no later than Feb. 25.
For additional information, contact Ginger Myers or Cindy Mason at 301-432-2767.