Maryland Agricultural Council
Glen Burnie, Maryland
February 4, 2010
Thank you all very much. To President Colby Ferguson and everyone with the Council, thank you for your leadership and your kind invitation to join you here tonight. To all my colleagues who are with us in state and local government, it’s an honor to join you - I look forward to working with you in this upcoming session on shared priorities like protecting farming jobs and keeping family farming profitable, protecting contiguous tracts of farmland, and growing smarter as a State.
We have Secretary Buddy Hance and Deputy Secretary Mary Ellen Setting with us from the Maryland Department of Agriculture – who both do a terrific job.
I also really want to thank Governor Harry Hughes for being here tonight and also for your leadership and everything that you do to keep Maryland, Maryland, Governor. You're a terrific Governor and you're a terrific human being and I really want to thank you for joining us here. (Applause.)
And know that all of us are thinking of you at this difficult time when you so recently said goodbye to your wife, a woman of class and grace and strength that we were all very blessed to have as our First Lady.
I know that you're as anxious as I am to get to the program and hear about those who are going to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. But I did want to share with you a few brief thoughts.
Strengthening Maryland Agriculture
Let me talk with you briefly about fiscal responsibility, and about some of the things that we've been able to do together and also some important work that we have to do, in not only the days and weeks, but in the years ahead.
In order to make agriculture stronger in Maryland there is no reason why our best days cannot be in front of us, if we choose to make it so.
We have a strong, strong tradition of agriculture. We have a strong agricultural economy. The things that we're doing together are allowing us to pass that on to the next generation. But we wouldn't be able to do that without all of your individual and collective work.
For the first time since the 1930s General Fund spending in our State is actually lower now than it was four years ago. That's the first time that's happened. It's required us to make a tremendous number of cuts, reductions, budget cut after budget cut after budget cut and, yet still, we are one of only seven states in the union that still has a Triple A bond rating.
We are the only State in the union that has been named not once, but two years in a row, as having the best public schools in America. We've been able to drive the crime down to its lowest level since 1987.
And despite those challenges we have not diverted any money from Program Open Space or the MALPF Program, the things which allow us to protect contiguous parcels of agriculture and agricultural economies.
Why do I go through those things? These are some of the most difficult times we've seen economically in a long, long time. I don't need to tell you, all of you know.
But we will come through these times. This recession will end. Our best days are still in front of us and when we come out of this, we're actually going to be stronger than we were heading into it.
Thomas Jefferson called agriculture the “first and most precious of all the arts.” Everywhere that the Lieutenant Governor and I travel in our State we emphasize our mission statement, which is this: that whether it's exercising fiscal responsibility, improving public education and public safety, expanding opportunity, it all comes down to one top-line goal. And that is to strengthen and grow the ranks of an increasingly, upwardly mobile and more diverse middle class, which means our family-owned businesses and our family farms. Our family-owned businesses and our family-owned farms.
That's why I come every year. Because you are critically important to the mission statement that is Maryland. When we brought together so many of you from all over our State to be part of the transition effort three years ago, you made about 109 recommendations and we have completed or are still working on a total of 102 of those.
On February 19th we will be continuing this important work, while working to chart a 15 year plan for Maryland agriculture at our State Agriculture Forum. I hope that all of you will participate in that as well.
Tonight I wanted to share a couple items with you about the ways that we've been able to work together in order to create that better future that all of us want -- namely, strengthening our family-owned farms, making farming more profitable and growing smarter and greener.
We have worked very closely with United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who I think Buddy would agree has been very, very accessible to us. And we've been working with him to support our livestock and poultry industries and secure Federal dollars for soil conservation districts, a new Eastern Shore Animal Health facility, and cover crops.
Another area where we've been working together has to do with mitigating the hit that so many of us in this room who are dairy farmers have taken in this recession.
We know more help is necessary, but so far we've been able to secure $2.5 million through the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Program, along with FSA Loan Relief and MILC payments of $5.8 million.
We have been very hard at work, as have many of you in this room, pushing the whole theme of Buy Local. To the extent that we can get more and more people to Buy Local, that's good for agriculture, it's good for our kids,… healthier plates, healthier planet.
Through Maryland's Best, your Department of Agriculture and state government are now partnering with retailers like Safeway, Whole Foods, Weiss, Wal-Mart, Wegman's, and restaurants and markets throughout our One Maryland.
Maryland farmers also received more than $605,000 in direct income from WIC clients.
I need your help pushing this Buy Local effort.
Schools in every county are participating to some degree or another in the Jane Lawton Farm to School Program, buying products from 30 different producers in our State. But we can and must do more.
I need your help advocating to your own county school boards, your own boards of education. Partnering with them and helping them figure out that they need to Buy Local. If all of our schools could do more in terms of buying local, it would do so much for our farm economy here in Maryland. And I need your help in order to get that done.
I also hope you'll support us on our truth in advertising Buy Local Bill, so that people can't ship in things from California, slap a label on them, call them Maryland, and have them masquerade as local goods.
One Maryland: Smart, Green & Growing
Working together over these past years, we've invested $204 million and preserved nearly 33,000 acres on 263 Maryland farms for fully funding MALPF, rather than raiding it to fill budget holes. And I need your help to protect that this year.
If you haven't gone online also to check out the Ag Print -- we're the first in the nation to actually post an Ag Print online so you can see every parcel of the farmland so critically important that we need to be able to preserve so we have a functioning, healthy farm and agriculture economy in our State.
Also I want to thank all of you for what you're doing on land conservation in our State -- and I want to congratulate St. Mary's Soil Conservation District, who just got an award for being the best boots on the ground, in terms of doing those best farming practices that all of you know so well, that so many of you have been engaged in.
Despite these tough economic times, all of you continue to set an outstanding example with increased conservation activity such as CREP and cover crop enrollment and the installation of a record number of Best Management Practices through MACs this year
I want to thank all of you who planted cover crops this last year. I know it was hard. I know Mother Nature did not cooperate and I know that it wasn't easy, but I do want to thank you for that. And I also want to make a pitch to you to help us do even more next year. We've put in more dollars over these last four years in cover crops than we have in the past. But I need your help to maximize that program.
I also want to thank you for embracing best management practices. This is the 25th anniversary of the cost-sharing program. In the past three years we've approved $28 million in grants that farmers will match with $3.5 million of their own to install 1,963 practices on their farms. We've also done some good things together on Gypsy Moth suppression.
Let me wind up by talking not off a script and not off a list, but from my heart.
Right now throughout our entire country, throughout our entire world, I think that we have never become more conscious of just how much our activities on our land – and our energy use – are so very vitally connected to our entire environment.
Now, that's something that no one has to make farmers aware of. You know that. You always have. In many cases your families have done that for generations and generations. If you look at the great work that all of us have of passing on the beauty and the health of this Bay region to our kids, you have led the way.
If you go on our BayState website you can see some things are going in the wrong direction. But if you look at the way that farmers in the last 20 years in Maryland have been engaging in and implementing best farming practices, the fact of the matter is that farmers are doing a lot better by the Bay than many things like storm-water and septic run-off and a lot of things that come from development. (Applause.)
And I don't just say that in the Ag dinners. I say that everywhere I go. It's true. We've done a lot of good things on upgrading the waste-water treatment plants, but you know what? The storm-water is still going in the wrong direction, the septic stuff is going in the wrong direction.
But the best management practices, the things that all of you are doing in your own operations, sometimes at too much of your own expense, are actually bringing the run-off and the nitrogen that goes in the Bay down. And you're doing better virtually every year since 1985.
So why do I bring this up? I bring this up because all of us have an imperative to do everything that we can to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Governor Hughes championed that. He understood that the Bay is the soul of Maryland, but he also understood that all of us have a role to play. I have been involved in many meetings with our new EPA Director. They are committed people. They want to do their job.
And again and again I have said publicly, and I have said privately, in those councils and those meetings, that we do not want to swap our family-owned farms in Maryland for massive development of housing projects. That wouldn't be good for the Bay, it wouldn't be good for our economy, it wouldn't be good for agriculture and it wouldn't be good for the next generation of Marylanders.
But I need your help. I need your help to embrace some of these things like cover crops and the other things that we know we can do to show that we don't need the heavy arm of regulation pounding on us, we know how to do this. We can hit the two year milestones, we can hit the benchmarks.
We can do things that involve clean tech and green tech and other things that make farming more profitable, that open up markets abroad for poultry and the other products of this State. And we can actually show the rest of the country what can be done.
But you know what? We do not want one set of farm regulations in Maryland and another for the rest of the country. (Applause.)
So let me conclude by saying this. I think we have an opportunity here. I think we have a real opportunity to set a 15 year path for our State, a 15 year path for agriculture that is also a positive path for the Chesapeake Bay.
I will never, have never, will never set agriculture up as the culprit for the health of the Bay. The truth of the matter is, we're doing a lot of things right, a lot of things better than we ever have, and farmers have been doing more than a lot of the rest of us.
So don't give up, don't despair. I know that all of you are anxious about a new administration and a new EPA. I'm going to be at that table. I'm going to fight for you every single day as I always have. It's a great honor to be here with you once again. And I look forward to coming back, with your help, four more times to this agriculture event. Thanks. (Applause.)