North­ern coun­ties blend­ing old, new

Agri­cul­ture, tech grow­ing to­gether

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY J.F. MEILS AND SE­BAS­TIAN OBANDO

FRED­ER­ICK, MD. | Be­fore he got in­volved in the beer busi­ness, Fred­er­ick County farmer Greg Clabaugh grossed about $600 an acre for grow­ing tra­di­tional crops like corn and soy­beans.

Now, on the land where he grows bar­ley and rye, he grosses $6,000 an acre.

In­cluded in that num­ber is pay­ment for malt­ing, a process where grains are par­tially ger­mi­nated then heat-dried, al­low­ing them to be more eas­ily con­sumed by yeast in the brew­ing or dis­till­ing process.

“You gotta put the time in,” said Mr. Clabaugh, about learn­ing to malt. “We started at the bot­tom and worked our way up. Now I have re­quests from all over.”

Mr. Clabaugh’s part­ner in his malt­ing op­er­a­tion is Tom Flores, brew­mas­ter for Mono­cacy Brew­ing and Brewer’s Al­ley, both lo­cated in the city of Fred­er­ick. Mr. Clabaugh and Flores are the very por­trait of what coun­ties like Fred­er­ick are try­ing to do eco­nom­i­cally — find syn­er­gies be­tween tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural in­ter­ests and newer down-county busi­nesses, in­clud­ing tech, tourism and a boom­ing food and booze scene in the city of Fred­er­ick.

Un­like West­ern Mary­land and East­ern Shore coun­ties, which are starved for growth, Har­ford, Car­roll and Fred­er­ick are try­ing to en­sure their farm­ing her­itage doesn’t be­come a ca­su­alty of their re­cent eco­nomic suc­cess and decades-long pop­u­la­tion growth. A legacy in­dus­try in par­tic­u­lar jeop­ardy is dairy farm­ing, which is suf­fer­ing acutely from a steep drop in the mar­ket price for raw milk.

Can Mary­land’s north­ern coun­ties thread the nee­dle be­tween the older and newer parts of their economies? It’s not clear. But if they’re suc­cess­ful, they could show other ru­ral ar­eas how to lean less on farm­ing with­out for­sak­ing it al­to­gether.

From 1960 to 2010, the coun­ties of Fred­er­ick, Car­roll and Har­ford each ex­pe­ri­enced more than 200 per­cent pop­u­la­tion growth, most of it down-county, in com­mut­ing dis­tance to ei­ther Wash­ing­ton, Bal­ti­more or both. The de­mo­graphic ex­plo­sion was the re­sult of a range of fac­tors, from the con­struc­tion of In­ter­state 270 to Fred­er­ick in the 1970s to the steady bed-room­ing of Car­roll and Har­ford by com­muters look­ing for cheaper real es­tate and a bet­ter qual­ity of life.

“We’re on the precipice of be­ing a fullfledged sub­ur­ban county,” said County Ex­ec­u­tive Barry Glass­man, Har­ford Repub­li­can. “We’re down to four or five dairy farms.”

The ef­fects of the de­mo­graphic shift over the past few decades hit tra­di­tional farm­ing busi­nesses hard, both in land swal­lowed for real es­tate de­vel­op­ment and in­creases in agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion costs.

Be­tween 1997 and 2012, Har­ford lost 30 per­cent of its farm­land. In Fred­er­ick, the de­crease was 15 per­cent in the same span.

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