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Maryland offers a vast array of ag products

April 27, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

Agriculture is the backbone of society - locally and nationally. George Washington said as much in a letter to Thomas Jefferson when he wrote, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness." In addition, Booker T. Washington supposed, "No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."

Now one might say, what does it matter that there are single counties in Iowa that produce more corn than the entire state of Maryland? That might be true, but measuring crop output is only half of the story. Agriculture and the people who pursue it add to the fabric of the community, and to the economy.

Maryland is a very diverse state with a rich agricultural history and a vibrant agriculture industry today. I have traveled the state far and wide, but this past weekend I traveled to the Eastern Shore for my daughter's wedding. During that drive, I was reminded of the vast amount of land still under plow.

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Most people only associate the Eastern Shore with Ocean City, crabs or poultry. Yes, poultry is big on the shore. Perdue Farms is headquartered in Salisbury, Md.. There is also a large presence of Mountaire Farms and Tyson Foods on the shore. But there are acres and acres of corn, wheat and soybeans grown on the shore, as well.

Additionally, you cannot make the trip east in the summer without passing a farmstand where locally grown produce is available. Strawberries, squash, sweet corn and watermelons are available, plus the ever-popular cantaloupe.

One thing you will have to search far and wide for on the Eastern Shore is cattle. While there is a world-renowned Angus herd in Queen Anne's County, Wye Angus, now owned by the University of Maryland Foundation, cattle are not a common sight. When you get south of Cambridge, Md., there are only two dairy farms, one each in Wicomico and Worcester counties.

Meanwhile, back here at home, we are the second- largest cattle county in Maryland for beef and dairy. We are the No. 1 hog- and apple-producing county. Both of those commodities are hard to find on the shore, although peaches are available.

We do grow our share of corn here, but half of it is chopped and ensiled as cattle feed. For the uninitiated, the entire corn plant - ear, leaves and stalk - are cut and chopped in the field, and stored in an oxygen-limiting storage structure often called a silo.

Fewer farms use the upright silos that are most recognizable. However, I insist they at least keep one so their neighbors will still know they are a farm. The corn is fermented or pickled, which preserves it so it can be fed year-round.

So as spring planting shifts into high gear, be patient with the tractor traffic and the aroma of natural fertilizer.

And remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who, by the way, would have identified himself as a farmer: "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are vigorous, independent and virtuous, and they are tied to their country and its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds."

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland 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 jsemler@umd.edu">jsemler@umd.edu

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