Farmers in Maryland will benefit from increased support and consistent regulation following the legislative session that ended April 11.
Lawmakers passed five of the State Farm Bureau’s seven priority bills and 29 of the organization’s 65-backed bills.
“Overall, we had a great session,” said Colby Ferguson, Farm Bureau government relations director.
Farm Bureau has succeeded in building support for urban agriculture, an important element in a state whose population is nearly 90% urban.
A law will help urban farmers connect to water and electricity connections. Often, vacant lots and urban green spaces lack these connections, which are essential for operating a greenhouse or for irrigation.
This program will receive $2 million, distributed by the Department of Agriculture. Similar to existing cost-sharing programs, the state will pay 87.5% of the project and the farmer will cover 12.5%.
“The farmer still has to have some skin in the game,” Ferguson said.
The legislature also approved a bill to fund two extension educators who will support urban agriculture statewide. The only current position is specific to the city of Baltimore.
Another bill would have provided funds for urban agriculture training, capital improvements and real estate acquisitions.
The program would have supported improvements on vacant land to bring the soil up to crop-growing quality.
And it would have helped immigrants who were farmers in their home countries become familiar with the US regulatory system.
“Their ability to cultivate is quite good; however, they have never grown in the United States or Maryland, so they don’t know about the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Ferguson said.
The bill passed the House but did not have enough time to get a final vote in the Senate. Farm Bureau will try again for that bill next year, Ferguson said.
Two new laws are expected to fix patchy regulations for shooting crop-damaging wildlife.
Farmers working on state-owned land in all counties will now be eligible for a deer management permit. Previously, this was only an option in a few counties.
And farmers in Baltimore County will no longer have to have a hunting license and carry orange to kill groundhogs.
These county-specific inconsistencies were the result of attempts to translate regulations into law, Ferguson said.
An earlier deer management law only allowed shotguns for problem deer management, which disadvantaged counties that allow rifle hunting. This glitch was so technical that the state did not notice it for several years.
When the shotgun vs. shotgun problem came to light, the Farm Bureau suggested eliminating it because it complicated efforts to protect crops from deer.
“To shoot them with a shotgun you have to get in close and stalk them, whereas with a rifle they can be halfway down the field,” Ferguson said.
Farm Bureau also worked on uniformity in farm electricity taxation.
Most farm buildings are on residential lines – tied to the farmer’s house meter – or are considered factories. Farms in either situation are exempt from state sales and use tax on electricity.
But some agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation pivots, machine sheds and grain silos, have their own meters and have been classified as commercial. This means that farmers pay a high price for electricity and have to pay a 6% sales tax.
Legislation to eliminate these additional costs was not passed this year, but will likely return in 2023.
“Everyone wanted tax credits and cuts and all that this year, and they just couldn’t do it all,” Ferguson said.
Another persistent problem is that of property taxes for agritourism buildings.
In October, Maryland began reassessing farm breweries, wineries and equestrian facilities, leading to increased tax rates.
A bill to ensure value-added operations are assessed as farm ownership bogs down in the Legislative Assembly, but Ferguson hopes the issue can be resolved this summer thanks to a study by government departments of Agriculture, Assessments and Taxation.
Right of repair
Legislation providing a right to repair for farm equipment collapsed in committee. Interest waned after threats were made against the committee chairman and his family.
Ferguson attributed the threats to right-to-repair zealots who were unrelated to agriculture.
The Farm Bureau’s primary interest in right-to-repair stems from the consolidation of equipment dealerships in Maryland, which Ferguson says has exacerbated a shortage of repair technicians that has driven up costs and service wait times. farmers.
The bill would have allowed independent repair shops to alleviate the demand for technicians from dealerships.
After the right to repair bill was unceremoniously terminated, Ferguson is looking to focus on industry negotiations.
Manufacturers are developing tools to help farmers make repairs. This includes developing the ability to remotely update machine software so that it can communicate with certain spare parts.
“I don’t think a legislative solution is in the cards, so we have to keep working in our own little sandbox,” Ferguson said.
Yet the Farm Bureau was able to rescind several environmental proposals that could have caused problems for farmers.
A major climate change law originally proposed that buildings over 25,000 square feet should use electricity, not natural gas or other fuels.
But a heat pump is not practical for maintaining the right temperature inside a large greenhouse or chicken coop. And electrical distribution probably isn’t enough in rural areas to serve large broiler complexes, Ferguson said.
Ultimately, all provisions for building electrification were removed from the law, but a healthy soils program was added.
The program will provide $500,000 a year for the next five years and will supplement funding already available for agricultural water quality, Ferguson said.
Farm Bureau also won the law to support biofuels over zero-emission vehicles. This latest technology is far from practical for large trucks and farm equipment, Ferguson said.
Ultimately, he said, the bill was generally positive for agriculture, although follow-on legislation is needed.
“When you have goals without actions, somewhere along the line as you get closer to that goal, something has to be in place to try to achieve those goals,” he said.