Van Hollen lis­tens to lo­cal farm­ers

Farm Bill, con­ser­va­tion con­cerns raised

Maryland Independent - - News - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­ Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

The 2018 Farm bill, crop in­sur­ance, con­ser­va­tion re­sources, con­trol­ling the deer pop­u­la­tion and the Af­ford­able Care Act were the top­ics of much con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Calvert County farm­ers and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The junior se­na­tor from Mary­land made the trek to Ch­e­sa­peake Church in Hunt­ing­town on July 3 to hear the needs of lo­cal farm­ers. The visit is one of many stops Van Hollen is mak­ing to farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties statewide.

“I re­ally want to be here in South­ern Mary­land to talk about what’s on your mind, your pri­or­i­ties es­pe­cially as it re­lates to the Farm Bill and any re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the soil con­ser­va­tion ser­vices,” said Van Hollen to a dozen mem­bers of the Calvert farm­ing com­mu­nity in at­ten­dance at The Lobby Cof­fee Bar within the church.

Van Hollen — the first Mary­land se­na­tor since 1922 to be on the U.S. Se­nate Agri­cul­tural Com­mit­tee, and also the se­nior Demo­crat on its Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Sub­com­mit­tee — ex­pressed con­cern over how the Farm Bill is go­ing to help or hurt Mary­land farm­ers.

The Farm Bill rep­re­sents the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy on agri­cul­ture and food and is amended and reau­tho­rized roughly ev­ery five years. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bill re­leased in late May de­buted with re­duc­tions in U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture staff, lim­its on crop in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums as­sis­tance and cuts to food aid.

Calvert farm­ers ex­pressed con­cern over the ex­clu­sion of crop in­sur­ance pro­vi­sion from the 2018 om­nibus bill and the in­abil­ity to be able to af­ford the pre­mi­ums cit­ing that it’s too ex­pen­sive and pre­mi­ums rise ev­ery time they cut the sub­si­dies.

When farm­ers want to im­ple­ment best prac­tices on their farm, in or­der to qual­ify for fed­eral pro­grams, they need a soil con­ser­va­tion ex­pert to come in and write up the plan. Among at­ten­dees, the need for more tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise as part of the soil con­ser­va­tion dis­tricts was unan­i­mous.

“Mary­land has cer­tain re­quire­ments in [nu­tri­ent] man­age­ment, one of them is stream buf­fers, and when you con­tact th­ese good folks they’ll say you have a two-year wait,” said Owings’ farmer Michael Phipps.

Calvert Soil Con­ser­va­tion District man­ager Bill Clark ex­plained he does not have the tech­ni­cal help to ad­dress the re­quests and do sur­veys. How­ever, the state con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials sign peo­ple up on oneyear plans, adding to the back­log.

“We’re sign­ing them up for fail­ure be­cause they sign up [and] there is no way we’re ever go­ing to get to them,” said Clark, adding he does not have the hu­man re­sources for sur­veys. “The Farm Bill needs to have tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance money in there. They don’t. They stick it all into [En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity In­cen­tives Pro­gram] and spe­cial­ity pro­grams and there’s no help in my of­fice.”

Slightly off topic, but very much rel­e­vant to the farm­ing com­mu­nity — com­prised of in­de­pen­dent busi­ness own­ers — was a ques­tion about the Af­ford­able Care Act, also known as Oba­macare.

“My health in­sur­ance premium has tripled and my de­ductible has mul­ti­plied by five, just so I can af­ford it,” said for­mer state sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture and full-time Calvert County farmer Earl F. “Buddy” Hance. “I have to spend $27,000 out of my pocket be­fore my health in­sur­ance will ever kick in.”

Van Hollen, who is also in the health­care ex­change, ac­knowl­edged that the pre­mi­ums and de­ductibles have been go­ing up and re­ported that BlueCross BlueShield has re­cently asked for a 50 per­cent rate in­crease.

“If you are an in­sur­ance com­pany, you need to make sure that the peo­ple in your pool are of all ages and back­grounds. If you’re only get­ting the sick­est peo­ple and older peo­ple in your pool, you have to in­crease pre­mi­ums in or­der to not lose money,” ex­plained Van Hollen, of the rea­son­ing re­ported be­hind BCBS’s re­quest.

Van Hollen in­ferred that the cur­rent White House ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion not to en­force the in­di­vid­ual man­date or so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity man­date, the re­quire­ment that ev­ery­body has in­sur­ance un­der the ACA “so that no one ul­ti­mately freeloads on the sys­tem,” is the cause for the rate in­crease.

Van Hollen said ev­ery­one needs to be in the sys­tem for it to work and that peo­ple wait­ing un­til they have an ac­ci­dent or health sit­u­a­tion to get in­sur­ance place the burden of pay­ing on oth­ers. The se­na­tor de­tailed at length the chal­lenges and ex­pected out­comes of the cur­rent Repub­li­can-led ef­forts to re­peal and re­place the ACA.

Jamie Ti­ralla of Mon­nett Farms, who raises livestock, specif­i­cally cat­tle, lamb, goats and pigs with her hus­band Ben­son Ti­ralla, an as­so­ciate su­per­vi­sor with the Calvert Soil Con­ser­va­tion District, was in at­ten­dance with a va­ri­ety of farm­ers and farm­ing pro­fes­sion­als. Ag runs deep in her fam­ily as she is also the vice pres­i­dent of the Calvert County Farm Bureau and chair­woman of the Mary­land Farm Bureau’s Young Farm­ers Com­mit­tee.

“We re­ally wanted to speak with the se­na­tor on where he stood on some of the Farm Bill is­sues to make sure that the pri­or­i­ties we have on our farm and in Calvert County are go­ing to be ad­dressed,” Jamie Ti­ralla told The Calvert Recorder, adding that con­ser­va­tion pro­grams are her big­gest pri­or­ity which will al­low bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship and pro­tect the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

The se­na­tor stressed the im­por­tance of meet­ing with the farm­ers in an in­ter­view with the Recorder.

“They are the folks that grow the food that we eat,” said Van Hollen, adding that he felt col­lec­tively they had a good con­ver­sa­tion about how he can sup­port their ef­forts to grow fresh lo­cal pro­duce in Calvert that’s avail­able to ev­ery­body. He was also in­ter­ested in how they can work to­gether to pro­tect the streams and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

“Farm­ers are good stew­ards of the land,” said Van Hollen, who is ad­vo­cat­ing for vol­un­tary part­ner­ships be­tween gov­ern­ment agen­cies and farm­ers for soil con­ser­va­tion and land con­ser­va­tion.

The se­na­tor also talked with the farm­ers about the food nu­tri­tion pro­grams, fresh pro­duce pro­grams and the Women, In­fant and Chil­dren (WIC) pro­gram, which Van Hollen feels are very im­por­tant to both con­sumers and the farm­ing com­mu­nity.

“They en­sure that moms and work­ing peo­ple have ac­cess to fresh pro­duce at farm­ers mar­kets. Ob­vi­ously they help the farm­ers. More of their fresh prod­ucts gets con­sumed,” the se­na­tor ex­plained.

Cur­rently, 90 per­cent of the food grown in Calvert is sold lo­cally, much of it at farmer’s mar­kets. Van Hollen said a “de­cent por­tion” of that goes to the WIC pro­gram and the food nu­tri­tion snap pro­grams.

Rev. Robert Hahn, the se­nior pas­tor at Ch­e­sa­peake Church, chair­man of End Hunger in Calvert County and event host, was ea­ger to talk to farm­ers as his pro­gram is go­ing to ex­pand to serv­ing lunch, and ev­ery­thing cur­rently pro­vided is lo­cally grown.

“Our thing is not only buy lo­cal, shop lo­cal, but be lo­cal,” said Hahn, adding that the non­profit wants to look at adding lo­cal meats and pro­duce to the lunchtime menu.

Now equipped with the con­cerns and needs of Calvert’s farm­ing com­mu­nity, Van Hollen in­tends to cham­pion ef­forts for them and other Mary­land farm­ers with spe­cific goals in mind.

“To make sure we con­tinue to have a Farm Bill that in­cludes help for the farm­ers, but sup­port the food nu­tri­tion pro­gram, the [Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram], that’s been the glue that held the Farm Bill to­gether,” Van Hollen said, pleased to hear unan­i­mous sup­port from the farm­ers for the food nu­tri­tion part of the Farm Bill.

To ad­dress the con­cerns about crop in­sur­ance pro­grams, Van Hollen sug­gested pos­si­bly mak­ing some mod­i­fi­ca­tions for the spe­cialty crops.

Van Hollen as­signed Col. Edmund Bar­rett to be his li­ai­son to farm­ers in South­ern Mary­land and Anne Arun­del County.

“We’re go­ing to be work­ing th­ese is­sues hard and that’s why we want to be lis­ten­ing,” Van Hollen said.


U.S. Se­na­tor Chris Van Hollen, far left, sec­ond row, meets with the Calvert County farm­ing com­mu­nity at Ch­e­sa­peake Church in Hunt­ing­town on Mon­day, July 3, to dis­cuss the Farm Bill and other con­cerns.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen meets with the Calvert County farm­ing com­mu­nity at Ch­e­sa­peake Church in Hunt­ing­town on Mon­day, July 3, to dis­cuss the Farm Bill and other con­cerns.

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