State moves closer to flying horses

ON THE FARM

August 24, 2008|By TED SHELSBY

The state's effort to become home to a Mid-Atlantic animal import-export center has taken a step closer to reality.

A recent feasibility study has recommend that a proposed $60 million animal quarantine center be located near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The center, which would primarily serve the horse industry, would be like a holding pen where animals coming into or leaving the country would stay for three to five days while being checked for diseases.

The stay is required by federal regulations aimed at preventing the spread of contagious diseases.

The process of picking a site for the facility dates back to 2002 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued proposed regulations to establish a new animal center that would complement operations in California, Florida and New York.

"The time it takes to ship a horse overseas begins from the time that animal leaves the barn to the time it plants its hoof in the soil of its new home. Adding a five to 15 hour van ride on top of the time in flight is not cost effective and causes additional stress on the animals being shipped," said state Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson.

He added: "A permanent Mid-Atlantic Animal Import and Export Center could reduce the cost of shipment for horse owners and buyers, and reduce the stress on transported horses thereby increasing the overall condition and productivity of animals shipped overseas."

Maryland horse farm operators have said that a new center closer to home would be a boon to their industry.

It would open doors to markets in other parts of the world and stimulate horse sales overseas.

Horse farm operators have complained that shipping horses from New York, California or Florida adds to the cost and makes Maryland stock less attractive to foreign buyers.

According to the study by Owl Creek Consulting of Berlin, a center near the airport would be feasible if coupled with another entity such as a state laboratory or animal health center.

The shipment of horses is usually a seasonal activity with most of the action taking place in December and January.

Operating the import and export center jointly with another entity could better utilize staff and optimize operations, according to the study.

Horses are big business in Maryland. According to information from the state Department of Agriculture's Horse Industry Board Web site:

* There are more than 87,000 horses in the state.

* Sixty percent of the horses in Maryland are for recreational purposes, 40 percent are for racing.

* The Maryland horse industry produces goods and services valued at $614 million a year.

* Maryland horse industry generates in excess of 20,000 jobs.

* Over 80,000 people in Maryland are actively involved with horses.

* The total value of all equine-related assets in Maryland is $5.2 billion.

* More than 600 stables offer riding lessons or horse boarding to the general public.

* Horse farms help Maryland retain its green space. Horse people hold over 685,000 acres of land.

* There are more horse shows in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington region than anywhere else in the country.

Corn prices are up, but so is the farmer's cost of producing the grain.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that the rising fuel and other products helped drive U.S. farm production expenditures to a record $260 billion last year.

Total U.S. farm production expenditures rose 9.3 percent from 2006. Over the past five years, farm production costs have risen nearly 30 percent.

Increasing petroleum costs meant farmers not only paid more for fuel, but also for fertilizer products, chemicals and transportation services.

Indirect fuel prices and the growth in ethanol production also led to higher crop prices, resulting in increased cost of livestock feed.

According to the government report, average farm production expenditures rose to $125,648 last year, up from $114,186 in 2006.

On average, farm expenditures for fertilizer, lime and soil jumped 26 percent to $8,070; feed costs rose 22 percent to $18,412; fuel costs were up 15 percent to $6,137; and agricultural chemicals climbed 12 percent to $4,832.

Maryland's farmers' market concept has gone high-tech.

A new way for consumers to purchase the freshest products that Maryland farms have to offer is through their computers.

Foodtrader.org is a new, free, virtual farmers' market that lets small independent state farms create an instantaneous listing that describes the food they have to sell, the price and the location.

Since becoming operational last month, more than 20 farms have included specialty cuts of meat, fruits, vegetables of all types, flowers, honey, dairy products, and even soap made from goat's milk.

The new service ( www.foodtrader.org) was created by the University of Maryland's Environmental Finance Center, a unit of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education.

Joanne Throwe, associate director of the center, said the new Web site is not only available to any consumer, but to any Maryland business or institution. She said the site already has the support of the Maryland Restaurant Association.

It is also consistent with the Maryland Department of Agriculture's "Buy Maryland's Best" initiative, which promotes the sale of local farm products.

"Anything you typically find at a farmers' market can now be found on our Web site," Throwe said. "We are encouraging Marylanders to buy more local food and support our farms. Plus, we're helping to bolster the economic viability of our working agricultural lands in the state."

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