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A new crop of farmers?

December 29, 2005

Are the Maryland agricultural industry's problems related to a lack of marketing or to the fact that selling their property for development pays farmers more than they can earn during many years of working the land?

It's a lack of marketing and the fact that many young, would-be farmers can't afford the buy-in to get started, said Steve McHenry, executive director of the Rural Maryland Council.

McHenry said that one way to change both those situations would be for the Maryland General Assembly to fund MARBIDCO - the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp.

Created by the legislature in 2004, it hasn't been given any public funding yet, probably because the number of jobs created by agricultural is not as large as those developed through MEDCO, the Maryland Economic Development Corp.

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In our view, the marketing needed is not so much for products, but for the idea that maintaining viable farms actually saves taxpayers' dollars.

Every building lot developed on existing farmland adds to the burden on local schools, roads, law enforcement and other services. In few cases do the taxes generated by residential development cover the services its inhabitants require.

But as McHenry points out, whether young people enter the profession depends on who their parents are. If they don't inherit land or work it as part of a family corporation, most can't get in the (barn) door.

We have often heard that farmers' land is their retirement.

We support paying for the development rights to a retiring farmer's land, then selling it, not as development property, but as a farm.

Farming could be a second career for someone tired of office life or for young botanists interested in devoting their lives to developing better crops.

The payoff for that devotion should not be just a salary, but a share of the farm's profits. Let's look at how to save money by creating opportunities for those who weren't born on a farm to own one.

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