Gov. Martin O’Malley wrote a letter (last) week to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett to encourage him to save 20 acres of rented farmland in Potomac from being converted to soccer fields. At the same time, the governor’s Maryland Department of Agriculture is conspiring against farmers across the state by making broad reaching changes to the nutrient management law, and the governor has the audacity to question the county executive about a 20-acre parcel whose lease is up? How do you spell hypocrisy anyway?
Here’s a reality check for the governor — farmers lose leased ground all the time for a variety of reasons.
Renting land is one of the many risks farmers take in their efforts to feed the masses. But unlike the many unpredictable variables they must confront such as weather, crop prices, insect and disease problems, production input costs, or government regulation, securing leases is one of the more manageable challenges.
Hundreds of farmers across the state turned out at Department of Agriculture public meetings on the proposed nutrient law changes to express their deep and genuine concerns for how these regulations will negatively impact their livelihoods, their families and their farms. Their stories were no less heartfelt or sincere than that of Mr. [Nick] Maravell and his daughter. These farmers just had the misfortune of speaking into the deaf ear of MDA representatives rather than the governor’s.
The irony that Mr. O’Malley would write a letter to a county executive who has always supported agriculture, whose county is a national leader in agricultural preservation, and who probably has more innovative agricultural education programs and business development initiatives than any other county in the state is by most accounts laughable.
In his letter, O’Malley says “I believe we are about to make a big mistake in destroying acres of productive farmland and its soils which could be a priceless asset to the education, health, and well-being of generations of Montgomery students.” Is Mr. O’Malley sure this wasn’t the letter he intended to send to his own MDA? Montgomery County already has one of the biggest agricultural education programs in the state. Close Encounters with Agriculture educates about 3,000 fourth graders, teachers, and parents every year. In addition, Mr. Leggett just recently initiated a new farmer pilot project that will provide plots for new, innovative farm entrepreneurs.
So tell the governor not to worry about the students and their well being, we’ll bus them up to the 100-plus acre farm Mr. Maravell owns in Frederick County. This will be good practice, because if the governor allows MDA to continue chipping away at landowner’s property rights, kids will have to take a bus to Virginia, Pennsylvania or Delaware to see a farm anyway!
If the governor really wants to save some farms and write a letter on behalf of agriculture, we suggest he send it to his own MDA. He can ask the same things farmers asked at the public hearings What is the economic impact of these proposed changes on family farms? How will we counteract the competitive disadvantage these regulations place on Maryland farmers, especially when they have already done so much more to help the Bay than farmers in all other bay states? Alternatively, he could send an apology to Ike, and ask him for some advice on how to protect family farms for the future and keep the number one industry in the state prosperous. Or maybe farmers need to be invited to a special meeting with the governor in order to get a letter like that?
Lonnie Luther, Damascus