Ag preser­va­tion dominates din­ner

Farm bureau hosts an­nual leg­isla­tive event

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD [email protected]­news.com

The Calvert County Farm Bureau shared agri­cul­tural con­cerns with state leg­is­la­tors and county com­mis­sion­ers at its an­nual din­ner in Prince Fred­er­ick on Mon­day.

Farm Bureau Pres­i­dent Ja­son Leav­itt called the event an “or­ganic town hall” giv­ing farm bureau mem­bers the op­por­tu­nity to bring new of­fi­cials up to speed on the is­sues that are im­por­tant to Calvert’s agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity.

“The ele­phant in the room is the [agri­cul­tural preser­va­tion] pro­gram,” Leav­itt said. “That is ab­so­lutely a topic that needs to be ad­dressed.”

Leav­itt said he was dis­ap­pointed with the for­mer board of com­mis­sion­ers’ de­ci­sion to de­fer any ac­tion on the Pur­chase and Re­tire­ment Pro­gram to the next board dur­ing a Dec. 4, 2018, work ses­sion in­tended to set PAR fund prices and put into mo­tion the county’s pur­chase of trans­fer­able devel­op­ment rights

for the pur­pose of land preser­va­tion. The com­mis­sion­ers were on the cusp of do­ing away with the pro­gram be­fore de­cid­ing to ta­ble the de­ci­sion.

Leav­itt said he made the mis­take of watch­ing the video online when he got home from the state’s farm bureau con­ven­tion, and that he could not sleep un­til 3 a.m. “It’s not the eas­i­est thing to deal with,” he said. “It’s a com­pli­cated is­sue. There are mul­ti­ple mov­ing parts and it takes so long for some­one es­pe­cially that’s not been re­ally close to the pro­gram for a long time to get the his­tory.”

The pres­i­dent said the in­for­ma­tion pre­sented at the meet­ing was not ac­cu­rate. “That gives us a chance as the farm bureau to go to work and be more en­gaged to have a bet­ter and more com­pre­hen­sive di­a­logue with the county com­mis­sion­ers,” Leav­itt said. He said they must start a new di­a­logue and make some pos­i­tive changes or those who seek to put their prop­er­ties in preser­va­tion will suf­fer.

“The [agri­cul­tural preser­va­tion] pro­gram in and of it­self is not per­fect. The ide­ol­ogy be­hind it is ex­cel­lent. It brings to­gether the ag com­mu­nity, the devel­op­ment com­mu­nity, and it pro­vides houses for peo­ple.” Leav­itt said some in­volved on both the civil­ian and reg­u­la­tory sides have abused the pro­gram counter to its ini­tial in­tent.

“We’re go­ing to talk about land preser­va­tion — I guar­an­tee it,” farmer, for­mer state sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture and newly in­stalled Com­mis­sioner “Earl” Buddy Hance (R) said. “I have faith in the new board.”

“I think it is im­por­tant for the new board to hear the his­tory of how and why the pro­grams were de­vel­oped and what’s been in place, and I think more im­por­tantly how we move for­ward from here,” County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Terry Shan­non said. “It’s on the hori­zon.”

Farmer and for­mer com­mis­sioner can­di­date Susie Hance-Wells asked that the county in­form the farm bureau of any agri­cul­tural-re­lated agenda items be­fore the com­mis­sion­ers.

Depart­ment of Plan­ning and Zon­ing Di­rec­tor Mark Wil­lis fell on the sword for any “mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion” re­gard­ing the De­cem­ber meet­ing, not­ing that more was to be dis­cussed.

Wil­lis promised to have an “open door” for the farm­ing com­mu­nity, a theme that was repli­cated many times, with hu­mor, through­out the night as speak­ers bested one an­other by promis­ing to have doors wide open, even two doors open, and fi­nally Hance said he has “no doors” as bar­ri­ers to com­mu­ni­ca­tion with him. Sher­iff Mike Evans (R) also said he is avail­able to help 24/7.

For­mer Calvert County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion vice chair Michael Phipps sug­gested hav­ing an agri­cul­tural preser­va­tion “primer” for the plan­ning com­mis­sion be­cause since his de­par­ture in late 2016, there has not been a mem­ber of the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity on the plan­ning board.

The Pur­chase and Re­tire­ment Fund “‘leaves our ru­ral land­scapes in­tact. It al­lows for ru­ral economies, which cre­ate food, fiber and jobs. It leaves forests, mead­ows and marshes for wildlife. It pro­vides stream buf­fers and low­ers im­per­vi­ous sur­faces, thus help­ing to pro­tect wa­ter­ways like the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Patux­ent River and lo­cal creeks,’” Hunt­ing­town farmer Mor­ris Suit said, read­ing ex­cerpts from a Dec. 28 let­ter to the edi­tor in The Calvert Recorder from Greg Bowen, who wears many hats in preser­va­tion and agri­cul­tural groups.

Suit also pointed out that Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) and Com­mis­sioner Mike Hart (R) were not in at­ten­dance, while ap­plaud­ing Hance, Com­mis­sioner Steve Weems (R) and Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent Kelly McCon­key (R) for at­tend­ing. Leav­itt praised McCon­key for be­ing one of the first in­com­ing com­mis­sion­ers to meet the farm bureau, and said Hutchins was ill that evening and could not at­tend.

Sen. Jack Bai­ley (R–Calvert, St. Mary’s) said his grand­fa­ther left his farms to his fa­ther and his fam­ily was able to get one farm in land preser­va­tion and is work­ing on an­other.

“So, that is some­thing that is near and dear to my heart and some­thing that we are work­ing with. I will try to be an ally” for the farm­ing com­mu­nity, he said.

Other is­sues broached were the treat­ment of agri­cul­tural tax as­sess­ment and agri­cul­tural in­cen­tives if a farmer is un­able to con­tin­u­ally work the land in preser­va­tion. Del. Ger­ald W. “Jerry” Clark (R–Calvert, St. Mary’s) promised to look into the is­sue.

For­mer com­mis­sioner can­di­date Holly Budd asked about the fu­ture of hemp, the cannabis plant, and its pro­duc­tion in the state in light of how the fed­eral govern­ment looks at it un­der the new farm bill. Clark said Mor­gan State Univer­sity will con­duct a pi­lot pro­gram on the value of cul­ti­vat­ing hemp, an ini­tia­tive he sup­ported in hopes it would be at MSU’s Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum lo­ca­tion in St. Leonard.

“We had a cou­ple of hemp bars in ses­sion in our com­mit­tee meet­ing. It wasn’t too bad — it was pretty good stuff,” Clark smiled, draw­ing laugh­ter.

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