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How Washington County's farms stack up in Md.

November 18, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

Harvest is just about over as is the planting of our winter annuals, so it is time to reflect on agriculture here in Washington County.

What prompted me to take this look is the arrival of my copy of the Agriculture in Maryland Summary for 2007.

Yes 2007, it takes the statisticians a little while to compile the numbers and put them into a report. So let's take a look at how Washington County Ag stacked up in 2007.

For the record, Washington County was the first county in the United States to be named for the Revolutionary War general (and later President) George Washington. It was formed on Oct. 1, 1776, by the splitting of Frederick County. Washington County, as created, included the areas later to become Allegany and Garrett counties, thus it included the entire western most part of the state.

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Today, the county encompasses 293,120 acres of land of which 125,159 acres are on the 775 farms that make up our agricultural base. The average farm size is 161 acres. Average farm size should not be confused with average size of the farming operation. Most of our farmers rent as much or more land than they own; some don't even own any land but rent all of the land they farm.

So what is produced from these fields? The No. 1 crop from a acreage standpoint is hay; we harvested 22,000 acres of hay in 2007. Next would be corn with 10,300 acres harvested for grain and 10,200 acres harvested for silage.

Hay is broken down into two categories, alfalfa and other hay, meaning grass hay. We grew 6,300 acres of alfalfa, third behind Frederick and Garrett counties, but we harvested more tons of hay than either county because our average yield was higher. To help put this in perspective, we harvested 600 acres more alfalfa than the nine counties on the Eastern Shore combined. We rank third in the number of acres harvested for corn silage, but all of this makes sense when you learn that we are the No. 1 dairy county when ranked by number of dairy farms and No. 2 when ranked by number of cows. Corn Silage and alfalfa make up the bulk of the feedstuffs enjoyed by dairy cows.

The other major crops grown here are wheat, barley and soybeans. We grow 7,000 acres of soybeans, 4,800 acres of wheat and 1,800 acres of barley only cracking the top ten once with our barley standing at No. 8. This is where the Eastern Shore really shines; they have the No. 1 county for each of the cash grains. Queen Anne's County is first in wheat and corn, Caroline in barley and Dorchester in soybeans. Not hard to understand when you remember the concentration of poultry farms on the Eastern Shore and their diet is primarily corn and soybeans.

Apples and peaches round out the major crops produced on our hills and dales. We had a slim lead as the No. 1 apple producing county and are in the top three in peach production. On the rise are acres that are growing vegetables and grapes.

As for the other livestock species, we are the leading county in hog production and No. 2 for beef production. Individual county data is not published for sheep and goats, but I would venture to guess we are in the top five in both categories.

I hope you can now appreciate the area you live in from a food production standpoint. This area has a long and storied agricultural heritage; I trust you feel blessed.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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