U.S. agriculture writ small in Maryland


November 02, 2008|By TED SHELSBY

The cabbage patches along Route 20 just outside of Seneca, N.Y., are as big as some of the dairy farms in Harford County.

Farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., alone produce more than twice the amount of milk of all the dairy farms in Maryland.

While maple syrup production has slowed to a trickle in Garrett County, it is still big business in rural sections of New York and Pennsylvania.

These are just a few tidbits of agriculture knowledge I picked up during recent tours of farming operations in New York and Pennsylvania. Viewing farm operations in other states drives home the point that whoever first said that Maryland was America in Miniature must have been talking about agriculture.

Agriculture is still a big business in Maryland. State economic development officials have estimated that agriculture, including all phases of the production and distribution of food and fiber, is a $17 billion-a-year business employing about 64,000 workers in the state.

Maryland is a lot like New York and Pennsylvania in that its farm industry is widely diversified. Generally speaking, Maryland farms offers a little of this and a little of that.

It has grain farms and vegetable farms. Other farms produce milk, beef cattle, hogs, eggs and even some mushrooms. The greenhouse/nursery business is growing rapidly, and chicken is still the king of the roost.

Poultry is Maryland's single largest farm sector, with sales of more than $530 million a year, or about a third of the state's total farm sales.

Some other observations as I drove through farming regions of Pennsylvania and New York to get a better understanding of farming and Maryland's role in the big picture:

* Tobacco was a major crop in Maryland for more than 350 years. It was considered the backbone of the Southern Maryland economy from shortly after the landing of the Ark and the Dove at St. Clements Island in 1634 until 2000, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening began paying farmers not to grow it anymore.

Farmers still produce about 1.5 million pounds of leaf a year, but that compares with more than 26 million pounds produced by Pennsylvania farmers.

* Pennsylvania has more than 58,000 farms. In New York, there are more than 34,000, or nearly three times as many as in Maryland.

* Apple orchards along Maryland's northern border from Cecil County to Washington County produce about 34 million pounds of apples, valued at just over $6.8 million.

Compare that with the orchards along the southern Lake Ontario shore, Hudson Valley and upper Lake Champlain Valley region that produce 1.3 billion pounds of apples a year valued at nearly $250 million.

* New York farmers produce more than $100 million in cabbage a year, but Maryland just might be the national leader in one aspect of this vegetable production.

A single farm outside Pocomoke City on the lower Eastern Shore produces and ships about 30 million cabbage plants a year. The small plants are shipped throughout the country, where they are transplanted and grown to produce heads of cabbage.

The farm estimates that 40 percent of the sauerkraut consumed in this nation originated in its fields.

* Pennsylvania is big into mushrooms. Farmers there account for 61 percent of the U.S. production of Agaricus mushrooms. Farms there shipped 60 percent of the mushrooms sold fresh at market and 79 percent of those processed. The crop is valued at about $440 million a year.

Maryland mushroom sales total about $1 million a year.

* During a good year, grain farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., will harvest more than 14 million bushels of corn for grain. That is about a fourth of Maryland total corn crop.

* New York is wine country. This becomes quite clear while driving along Route 54 in the Finger Lakes region of the state. It seems as if there is a winery to be visited every three or four miles.

New York has nearly 200 wineries and ranks third in the nation, behind California and Washington. Wine production has increased 65 percent since 1985.

The Maryland wine industry is growing just as fast, but it has some catching up to do. There are 34 wineries in the state that produced 228,657 gallons of wine last year.

* There is one sector of agriculture where Maryland doesn't have to take second seat to New York, Pennsylvania or nearly any other state. It's poultry.

In all likelihood when families in New York and Pennsylvania gather at the table for chicken dinner, the bird being served comes from Maryland's Eastern Shore.

As mentioned, poultry is a yearly $500 million-plus industry in Maryland. Chicken houses are a rare sight in New York, and production figures are too few to disclose.

Chicken is a bigger business in Pennsylvania than in New York, but Pennsylvania farmers produce only about half the poultry that Maryland farmers do.

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