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Brien Poffenberger: Farming - Our economic DNA

July 17, 2013|By BRIEN POFFENBERGER

This time of year, agriculture has a built-in marketing hook. All outdoors becomes a giant billboard for one of our community’s biggest economic drivers. The pastures and bank barns, orchards and farm fields paint the very picture of summertime in Washington County. It was fitting, then, that the Economic Development Commission (EDC) spent so much time last week talking about farming.   

Every year, the EDC gives the business community an update at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, and in his presentation last week, EDC President Dan Pheil had a great story to tell. When he talked about farming, he had facts and figures, success stories and local award winners. It was clear that, though agriculture might be just one industry important to Washington County, none has done more over the years to define our community and contribute to its economy. Farming is part of our economic DNA. 

Our agricultural legacy has shaped everything from our network of roads to the design of our buildings, and farming continues to contribute enormously to the local economy. Washington County grows more fruits and berries than any other county in Maryland, and it ranks second in the sale of cattle, hogs and dairy products. Only health care and state government can compete with agriculture’s economic impact on Washington County, and when combined with ag-related supplies and vendors, farming is the clear winner. What’s more, agri-dollars are more likely to stay in the community, turning over two or three times and multiplying their economic impact. 

As Pheil’s presentation suggests, county leaders know how important farming is to Washington County. Several years ago, the county created an office tasked with helping Washington County’s farms, both with the day-to-day running of an agri-business and by creating new markets for Washington County products. The office has succeeded on both fronts and continues to be one of the EDC’s bright spots. 

The business community understands that the family farm has changed and that policies and market expectations have to change with it. Farming today is as much about computer screens and spreadsheets as it is about physical labor. With high-tech monitoring, for example, a dairy farmer knows there’s a problem before it’s a problem, and GPS mapping has taken the guesswork out of soil management.  Interest rates, fuel prices and global competition are every bit as important as rainfall and seed prices. With information as the new agricultural “input,” education can be the difference between success and failure. And as with any business, standing still means falling behind. 

Through the tireless work of Ag Marketing Specialist Leslie Hart, the EDC has shown a statewide spotlight on Washington County’s farms and has helped local farmers with business issues large and small. Leslie is a tireless advocate for farmers at the local and state levels, and she understands intuitively that success on the family farm solves a host of problems, from land preservation to job creation to nutrition.   

If Pheil’s EDC’s presentation to the Chamber last week was a button-down celebration of farming, another agricultural celebration starts this weekend — in shorts and flip-flops. The Ag Expo and Fair (www.agexpoandfair.org) puts Washington County’s agriculture on display with exhibits, competitions, entertainment and a carnival. The expo is not-to-be-missed fun for the whole family, making the connection between the farms that we see every day and their impact on our local economy.

Brien Poffenberger is president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.





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