Aquaculture, Solar Farms, and the Future of the Shore Economy

When one thinks about the economies of the Eastern Shore, two of the first things that come to mind are poultry and seafood. This piece in the Washington Times highlights other industries—aquaculture and solar—that are trying to take root and help the Eastern Shore forge a new economic identity. The goal, the author notes, is to find industries that “create large numbers of decent jobs while protecting the Chesapeake Bay and maintaining the region’s pastoral feel for both tourists and locals.”

Unfortunately, the dominance of the chicken industry has a number of downsides, from manure concentration to economic vulnerability, as Fair Farms has highlighted in the past. In addition, crab hauls have dramatically declined over the past few decades, meaning “the plight of the area’s watermen is exceedingly desperate.”

Could aquaculture, specifically oystering without using the bottom of the Bay, offer a life vest to the watermen that have been a vital part of the Eastern Shore’s heritage and economy?

Growing oysters is a much more economically viable and environmentally-friendly way to produce this tasty shellfish than harvesting them from the Bay or ocean. While shellfish aquaculture throughout the Bay region and Eastern Shore is growing, there are hurdles: it takes 2-5 years for an oyster to mature, culling oysters ready for market must happen by hand on a day-to-day basis, and there is simply inadequate local demand for all the newly cultured oysters being produced – and not enough distributors to move them to markets beyond Maryland.

Harvesting Sunshine?

Some farmers are looking to solar as a way to supplement income. In Annapolis, lawmakers created a law (overriding Gov. Hogan’s veto) to increase the state’s renewable energy goals to 25% by 2020 and obtain some of that electricity from solar.
The Eastern Shore of Maryland is particularly attractive to solar companies as there is an abundance of unused, very flat land close to transmission areas. In fact, the largest solar installation in the state is already underway in Somerset County on the Lower Shore, where it is creating a number of new jobs to support the construction phase.

While renting land for solar installations is attractive to many that own land in the area, some are worried these operations will take up valuable farmland that can be used for future agricultural expansion:

“The last thing we want to do is replace our food sources with energy,” said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, which is not against solar, but does not want it located on productive farmland.

Fair Farms recognizes that these are complicated issues, and is keeping an ear to the ground as the conversations happen among lawmakers, land preservation advocates, renewable energy companies, farmers, and local communities. We do remain enthusiastic about farming that diversifies the agricultural economy, employs unused land with an eye on long-term soil health, minimizes chemical inputs, and respects the health and well-being of our environment, farm workers, farm animals, local communities, and consumers.

If that farming can also sequester carbon and/or creates clean energy, isn’t that a good thing for the Eastern Shore?

Click here to read the full article.

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