For farmers, it just might be the best thing since the tractor replaced the horse-drawn plow.
Imagine, with just a couple of clicks on their computers, farmers can tap into a new online marketplace set up just for them.
The Maryland Agricultural Exchange was created to help farmers in the state and throughout the Chesapeake Bay region to buy, sell, trade and give away a wide variety of items, including a hay wagon, manure, vegetables and livestock.
It's the brainchild of the people at the University of Maryland's Environmental Finance Center in College Park who say it's the first in the state and may be unique to the nation.
"It's a darn good idea," said Bill Hanna, a Harford County grain farmer who has listed bales of hay and wheat straw for sale.
"It is targeted toward farmers," he said of the service launched this month. "It is more accessible than other forms of advertising."
Robert Smyth, owner of Sweetwater Farm near Hampstead in Carroll County, is using the site to advertise manure from his horses, goats and sheep that he is giving away.
"I haven't had any response yet," he said this week, "but the system is very new, and the targeted audience is not aware of it yet."
Henry Burkman turned 84 this year. He has been farming a 56-acre spread near Port Deposit in Cecil County for as long as he can remember.
But not anymore. Burkman is calling it quits. He is selling off the equipment he used to grow tobacco and later to raise beef cows.
He has offered a 9-foot offset bush hog, in good condition, for $750. Price is negotiable, he said.
Other items listed include a 3-point hitch spin spreader, a 10-foot Allis-Chalmers disc, a 20-foot boom sprayer and an 18-foot hay wagon.
"The stuff is just sitting here," he said. "Maybe somebody else can use it. I could use the money.
"Farmers need something like this," he continued. "I hope it works. I tried advertising in a farm paper and the local newspaper, but there is not as much farming here now as when I was younger."
"This Web site will create new market opportunities for farmers," said Joanne Throwe, assistant director of the university's Environmental Finance Center. "It is like a Craig's List for agriculture."
She referred to the online marketplace as AgTrader and said it would also help farmers transport manure from those who have to those who need it.
Roger Richardson, Maryland's secretary of agriculture and a lifelong farmer from Worcester County, called the AgTrader site a novel idea with potential to help farmers keep costs down.
The free Web site is intended to complement the state-run manure transport programs and provide a user-friendly marketplace where farmers and other interested parties can buy and sell agriculture products and services.
The site also includes a directory for businesses and a resource section showing a calendar of events and important news for the Chesapeake Bay agriculture community.
All trades through the Web site are made strictly between buyer and seller. Pricing and delivery are left up to buyer and seller to work out.
The Web site's address is www.agtrader.org.
Ag survey in June
Agriculture data collectors will be knocking on doors across Maryland during the first two weeks of June looking for horses, pigs and cows, as well as information on land uses and other farming activities.
Field workers will gather information as part of an annual nationwide survey of land use and agriculture activities by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
"The June survey is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys conducted each year by NASS," said Barbara Rater, director of the service's Maryland office.
"By providing an in-depth look at land uses and agricultural activities, the survey provides the most timely, accurate and useful information on the current condition of U.S. agriculture," she added.
Field workers will be asking about crop acreage, biotech crop acreage, grain stocks, livestock inventory, cash rents, land values and value of farm-product sales.
As with all surveys, information provided by residents is confidential by law.
"NASS safeguards the confidentiality of all responses and publishes only state and national level data, ensuring that no individual operation or producer can be identified," said Rater.
The information will be used extensively by NASS in its ongoing survey and farm estimation programs. The survey provides direct data, or is a critical component, for a host of NASS reports, including the monthly crop production report, annual acreage report and inventory reports for livestock.