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State subsidies needed to preserve family farms

August 05, 2005

Farmers from all over Maryland came to Frederick this past Monday to tell state officials what they need to continue their way of life.

Because this and other meetings will help Gov. Robert Ehrlich develop policy recommendations, it's important that farmers participate and try to speak with one voice.

That will be difficult, of course, because farmers who raise chickens have different issues than milk producers. But all have some things in common.

The first is insurance. Many farmers have told us over the years that it's important for at least one member of the farm to work elsewhere so that the family can have health insurance.

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The state should be able to put together a group policy that would not only provide security, but also give farmers better information about health and safety issues.

But the big issue is profitability. For dairy farmers, the price of milk has not increased as much as the cost of fuel, feed, medicine and other items.

It won't be politically popular, but if the state cannot get Maryland into a multi-state dairy compact that would subsidize milk prices, it should do so on its own.

We know we'll hear wails from the big-city lawmakers who will ask why their constituents should pay a few cents per gallon of milk to help subsidize farms.

The answer: Because when farms are developed, there is a need for new roads, schools and eventually services such as police and courts.

All of those services are subsidized to some degree by state government, either through direct payments or grants. Subsidizing farms, by whatever means, will be cheaper than paying for development's costs.

Maryland's farmers have hung on for years, working long hours for returns that most businesspeople would turn up their noses at.

It is time to stop paying lip service to the ideal of the family farm and to spend some money to preserve this way of life. Either way - preservation or development - will cost. We're convinced preservation is the cheaper, better way to go.

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