Farmers and those in agriculture-related businesses will be polled.
Frederick, Md (KM). A survey is being sent out to farmers and agriculture-based businesses in Frederick County. During her public information briefing on Thursday, County Executive Jan Gardner said the purpose is to learn about the state of local agriculture, and what improvements could be made.
“The information we gather from the survey will be used to help develop initiatives, and direct legislation that will best support our local farmers,” she said. “And certainly it may also spur some economic development initiatives that really don’t fall into either one of those categories.”
Gardner said Frederick County is recognized as a national leader in agriculture, especially when it comes to being steward of its rich farmlands, with more than 180,000 acres and 1300 farms. The County also boasts having more USDA-certified organic farms than any other county in the state of Maryland. Gardner says Frederick County has preserved more than 65,000 acres of farmland since 2015. 94% of that is permanently preserved. Agriculture in Frederick County accounts for more than $150-million in sales, and a $1.5-billion in economic activity.
:But there are some concerns, she says. “The past few years have brought a perfect storm of challenges, especially for our dairy farmers. They’ve experienced a combination of low commodity prices, rising feed costs, international trade issues and some terrible weather,” says Gardner. “We know last year we had a tremendous amount of rain. And in combination, all of these things are creating some real economic hardship.”
Since 2012, 700 farms have ceased operations, according to the County Executive.
But there is some good news. Gardner says there are more small and large farms in the region compared to 20 years ago, and agri-tourism and craft beverage enterprises using local products are flourishing.
She says this survey will help identify the problem, which could result in some solutions. “My goal is to hear directly from people who are part of the Frederick County longstanding agriculture industry, or even maybe some of our new agriculture partners,” says Gardner. “Their knowledge and input is invaluable to this discussion.”
The survey has been sent out by regular mail and e-mail. It’s a one page front and back, and contains about dozen questions on participation in land preservation programs, interest in shared resources,and what challenges are facing agriculture, and what opportunities may lie ahead. The deadline to respond is April 11th.
The results of the survey will be discussed during the Agriculture Business Viability Roundtable taking place on Monday, April 22nd–Earth Day–at Winchester Hall beginning at 6:30 PM. County Executive Gardner says results will form a basis for discussion about how to keep agriculture viable in Frederick County. “We may choose to invest more money into preserving farmland because we know they’re a demand for more of these programs, or we may want to alter one of these programs . We may also want to find out what legislative changes or zoning changes could be made to give farmers more options and to help them diversify,” she says.
The meeting is open to the public.
Anyone who wants more information on the survey or the meeting is asked to call Katie Albaugh Stevens, Business Development Specialist with the Office of Economic Development, at 301-600-3037; or via e-mail at kstevens@FrederickCountyMD.gov.
By Kevin McManus