A place for the flying horses


August 24, 2008|By TED SHELSBY

The state's continuing 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, Md., 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 recommendations in the study.

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

* 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.

Everything goes up

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 cost of fuel and other products help 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.

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