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Washington County farming by the numbers

January 11, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER | jsemler@umd.edu
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Over the past several weeks, I have been involved in several presentations and countless conversations on the importance of agriculture to Washington County.

This is a question that bears discussing and one in which there is no easy answer. For many folks in my position, the answer would be an emphatic “yes,” if only it were that easy.

Let’s start with a snapshot of Washington County agriculture. Believe it or not, 39 percent of the land in the county, 114,000 acres, is in agriculture production. There are 844 farms on those acres with most of these farms housing livestock. The county has 13,700 dairy cows, 36,000 beef cows and calves, 6,600 hogs, 1,700 sheep and 1,200 horses.

Besides livestock, the county produces 1.78 million bushels of corn, 181,000 tons of corn silage, 254,000 bushels of soybeans, 370,000 bushels of wheat, 125,000 bushels of barley and 73,500 tons of hay per year.

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The county produces 65 percent of the state’s apples and 35 percent of the state’s peaches. In total, Washington County’s agrarian community has farm gate sales of just short of $84 million.

A fairly substantial industry to say the least. Unlike many industries, however, ag producers spend more of their money at home. They patronize the various support industries from feed mills to fuel suppliers. Anytime a person lives where they work, the community is better off.

The dairy industry leads the way here with sales amounting to $45 million, making the county the No. 2 dairy county in the state. The county also ranks second in forage production (hay and silage), third in beef, sixth in sheep and first in hogs, although the hog industry has all but disappeared in Maryland.
These figures demonstrate all the tangibles of agriculture, but I believe it is the intangibles that are most important. The foremost of these intangibles is the contribution agriculture makes to the quality of life. This is the reason many people are clamoring to move here.

Americans have not yet realized what our Swiss brethren know, the farm is responsible for the scenic beauty of this place we call home.  

The Swiss, to their credit, have long recognized this to the point that their farmers are considered caretakers of the Alps and are paid for this duty out of funds generated from tourism.

If you have any doubt about what I am saying, take a drive from Smithsburg to Cascade on a sunny day in April or May and if the apple and peach blossoms don’t take your breath away, I might suggest checking your pulse.

Or on a warm summer’s day, drive through the hills and dales and watch cows grazing or calves frolicking or the smell of freshly mown hay.

In a nationwide survey, people were asked what they would like to see out their windows. The results show the No. 1 response was animals grazing (horses or cows to be exact). Rather interesting, they didn’t list a split foyer or a rancher.

So I am going to ask you, is agriculture important to Washington County?  

For the record, I am not against development. I believe we should grow our community on the fringes of existing towns and not in the middle of agricultural lands. But that is not my last word. We will visit this topic many more times in the future, so stay tuned.


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.

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