ANNAPOLIS – The most comprehensive economic study in the past 20 years, and perhaps ever, of Maryland’s dwindling agriculture industry began Wednesday.
Officials hope the 12-month study, undertaken by the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will determine the current state and future of Maryland agriculture.
The diverse industry has declined across the state in the past few decades, but still remains the largest economic force in many rural areas.
Using the $260,000 study, officials hope to plot what actions must be taken to assure the future economic health of the industry that has suffered recently from drought, low crop prices, and urban encroachment. It also has been affected by recent changes in state and federal agricultural polices, including Maryland’s tobacco farmer buyout.
Once the study is completed next fall, “the biggest challenge will be determining how we get policy makers to pay attention,” to the findings, said Tom Fritz, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a member of the state’s Agricultural Commission. The commission is made up of industry representatives, and acts as a liaison to the state Department of Agriculture.
The study will be conducted in three parts at the University of Maryland’s Center of Agricultural and Natural Resource Policy, said the center’s director Bruce Gardner.
– First, researchers will use state and federal agricultural data to analyze crops and livestock produced in Maryland, and resources, including land, water, labor and technology.
– Second, researchers will use the collected data to determine recent industry trends, focusing on factors that could affect agriculture in the state over the next five to 10 years. These factors include biotechnology, commodity market demands, consumer health and environmental concerns.
– Third, researchers will examine current and proposed state and federal polices to determine their current and future effect on Maryland agriculture.
In the past decade, there have been several attempts to determine the economic state of Maryland’s agriculture industry, though none as in depth as the one that began yesterday, Gardner said.
“There was talk of issues . . . but there was no real attempt to put things together and (construct) a base to build on,” he said. “(Now) we’ll give projections. We are looking into the future.”