Farmers Did Well in General Assembly Session

I have had the privilege of serving on many task forces and commissions during my time in the Maryland Senate. We usually meet during the interim between Sessions to work on a bill or series of bills to present to the upcoming legislature for passage.

Last year, the presiding officers of the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates created the Agricultural Stewardship Commission. This body was given the mission to address concerns of farmers and other representatives of the agricultural committee. I was pleased to serve on this committee because I have advocated for our farming and agricultural community since I was first elected to public service in 1974.

For too long, farmers and the agricultural industry have been at odds with the environmental community and state government. I believe farmers have been blamed to often and much too unfairly for the problems that plague the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The goal of the Agricultural Stewardship Committee was to meet as a group of legislators, farmers, members of the academic community and environmental experts to come up with a bill that could be presented to the legislature to address the needs of often neglected and underappreciated farmers who do a phenomenal job.

I was very pleased to be a primary co-sponsor of the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 -- which came about as a result of this Commission’s recommendations. The bill, which was morphed into House Bill 2, is almost exactly like SB 5. I was in the Governor’s Reception room recently when he signed this bill into law.

The Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 also does the following among many other positive things for farmers and the agricultural industry. Main parts of the bill include:

* Authorizing counties to include a Priority Preservation Area element in their local comprehensive plans.

* Beginning in fiscal 2009, integrates the certification of PPA elements into the existing county agricultural land preservation certification program administered by the Maryland Department of Planning (MD) and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF).

* Provides that, beginning in fiscal 2009, counties with certified agricultural land preservation programs, as modified by the bill, would be eligible for specified additional funds provided to MALPF

* Expands the allowable uses of the funds a certified county receives.

*Makes other various changes to the certification program and related reporting requirements and required MDP and MALPF to jointly adopt regulations regarding PPA certification by December 31, 2006.

*Establishes an agriculture and natural resources internship program within the University of Maryland, College Park.

*Requires the Maryland Agricultural Commission to promote and where possible, to establish internships with farms and businesses in their perspective sectors.

*Mandates funding for the Maryland Agricultural and Resource Based Industry Development Corporation and the 24 Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs).

Needless to say, this is a good, strong bill that shows when people of good faith come together on in a group such as the Agriculture Stewardship Commission, something positive and good is developed.

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