University of Maryland Extension

Results of Major Needs Assessment Study Show Regulations and Legislation as the Top Concern for Maryland Farmers

Image Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has served Maryland farmers and producers for four years through the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), with the ultimate goal of economically sustainable agricultural production. Results from a needs assessment conducted by University of Maryland Extension (UME) were recently released and show that farmers across 16 Maryland counties and around the state unanimously believe that regulations and legislations are their top concern for farm viability. This rose above issues of changing climate and weather, farm management, and even agricultural production and yield. 

UME educators, led by Ms. Shannon Dill, Principal Extension Educator in Agriculture, and Dr. Teresa McCoy, Assistant Director, Evaluation & Assessment, conducted needs assessments of Maryland agricultural producers in 16 counties. Results were presented at the ALEI annual advisory panel meeting last month, and the data show a need for substantial legal education for farmers now more than ever. According to Dill, “While we knew farmers were concerned about agricultural regulations, we were still surprised about the overwhelming level of concern.”

A systematic approach was taken to conduct this study, with 26 survey questions across four major areas: industry viability and concerns, research and education needs, education and training preferences, and demographic and farm information. Nine different Eastern Shore counties (297 respondents) and seven different Western-Northern counties (172 respondents) were surveyed via direct mail and the Internet for a total of 469 participants. An additional 486 participants were recruited from the winter educational meetings that UME holds for farmers across all counties. Based on agricultural census data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the sample was representative of the overall population across the region.

The data show a population that is concerned about staying up to date with the most current laws and regulations, and that firmly believes that agricultural regulations have a moderate to high effect on their farm business operations. ALEI was identified by farmers as being very important to farm operations to service this need, with major topics of interest including environmental regulations, land-use/property rights, business liability, and farm succession/estate planning. “The AG Law initiative is a great resource for UME county-based educators to be able to help farmers with questions about these topics,” said Dill.

ALEI is a collaboration of the Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB); the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Maryland (UMCP); and the School of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland: MPowering the State, a strategic alliance between UMB and UMCP created in 2012 to significantly expand research collaboration, business development, and student opportunities at both universities.

ALEI and UME plan to continue delving into their population’s needs with a more thorough needs assessment of Central and Southern Maryland counties, as well as examining needs in the commercial horticultural industry and the commercial seafood industry, where there are additional regulatory and legal requirements. ALEI and UME will use all the information they gather to ensure they are servicing the state as best they can, tackling this essential educational challenge and helping our college support farm viability and sustainability across the state.

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