Sunshine on the Farm
Just as crops need sunshine to grow, shining the light of transparency onto farming practices is also important. To maintain a healthy relationship between Marylanders and the farmers we support with our tax dollars, consumers deserve to know where our food comes from, how it is produced, and whether it is being grown in a way that protects our environment and communities. Ensuring the government is using our tax dollars appropriately in its support of good farming practices should not be optional.
Unfortunately, current law makes it virtually impossible to obtain access to public records that relate to government support for and oversight of agricultural operations. Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
Farm businesses receive millions of public dollars each year to help them comply with pollution control plans (known as nutrient management plans) written with the assistance of Md. Department of Agriculture consultants whose salaries are paid with public dollars. Farmers are required to follow these nutrient management plans when fertilizing crops and managing animal waste. Despite being supported with public taxpayer funding, these plans are – for all intents and purposes – secret. The public has a right to ensure that these plans are being followed and our tax dollars are being used effectively. While many farmers may be meeting or even going beyond the requirements of their nutrient management plans, without adequate transparency there is no way for the public to know who is doing a good job and who is not.
According to the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program, in 2014, Maryland farmers received $27 million in government grants to support cover crops, state-of-the-art animal manure storage systems, dead bird composting facilities and other tools aimed at reducing pollution from animal feeding operations.
Despite this public funding, citizens are unable to effectively track whether or not these agricultural operations have been cited for violations, and whether they are eligible for additional funding—and how soon. Marylanders deserve to know the farmers who have received grant assistance, have pending grants, or have unresolved violations. We also have the right to ensure that government agencies that regulate farms are doing their jobs. No other business or nonprofit group could receive a government grant with an unresolved violation.
Fair Farms supports a fair food system that treats everyone equally and equitably, one that doesn’t apply different rules to different farmers. To make informed choices about the food we buy, Marylanders should be able to learn more about the farms that produce it.