University of Maryland Extension

Survey of University of Maryland Extension Faculty

Image Credit: 
University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources online photo archive

In the summer of 2013, the Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Policy surveyed the University of Maryland Extension (UME) faculty on what they perceived to be the most important legal needs for the agricultural sector.  The Center also asked how often UME faculty received questions regarding a host of legal issues.  The UME faculty identified environmental regulations, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) programs, and land use concerns as the most important legal issues.  The UME faculty also identified those issues about which they receive the most frequent inquiries from the farming community.

The Center conducted an on-line survey to which 53 UME faculty from different regions of the state responded.   These Extension educators identified 7 issues out of a possible 19 listed on the survey for which they received the most phone calls and viewed as “Very Important.” Environmental issues such as compliance with environmental regulations, nutrient management, Total Maximum Daily Loads, and dealing with environmental groups were considered the most concerning issues of all.  Eighty-three percent of the educators believed environmental issues to be the most important and 60% of UME faculty had received 10 or more phone calls on this issue from farmers in the past year (Figure 1).  Land Use issues, such as right-to-farm issues, zoning, property rights, compliance with conservation easements, etc., ranked second in terms of importance with 78% of educators saying it was very important.  Slightly more than a quarter of UME faculty had received phone calls on Land Use (Figure 1).  This suggests farmers are seeking other professionals when making inquiries about land use issues.   Legal issues related USDA and MDA programs were also considered very important for the farm community.  Over half of UME respondents ranked USDA/ MDA programs very important in terms of legal needs. Marketing & Diversification issues such as agritourism, converting to organic production, and new markets to name a few were also listed as important by almost 40% of the educators (Figure 1).

Extension educators were considered a reliable source of information about both MDA programs and USDA programs with over a third of them receiving between 1 to 4 calls in the past year on these programs. 

For some legal issues farmers do not reach out to educators for assistance.  The majority of UME educators responding reported not getting any phone calls with issues related to discrimination, divorce, seed saving, debt, or production contracts.  This suggests that farmers are turning to other professionals outside of UME for assistance.  This realization may suggest an opportunity in the future depending to fill a void in legal services required by the Maryland agricultural community.

After identifying the important legal needs, UME faculty were asked about the best method to use to disseminate information to the farm community.  Of the five methods offered, educators generally believed that home-county workshops and fact sheets worked the best. About half of them believed that farmers would view on-line videos and webinars.  Fewer thought that farmers would travel 75 to 100 miles to attend regional or state-wide workshops for legal education.  Regional/state-wide workshops were considers appropriate for two issues:  Business Planning and Marketing & Diversification issues. UME Educators’ preferences as to how to effectively help farmers differ depending on the geographic clusters.   The Upper Shore Maryland educators find that on-line videos (93%) and long-travel workshops (80%) were appropriate but whilst only 7% of Southern educators thought these educational methods would work for their clientele.


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