Photo from Maryland Sunrise Farm Facebook Page
Annapolis, MD (March 28, 2014) – Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman today announced decisions on the farmland the County leases in Gambrills, MD, from the U.S. Naval Academy, known as the Naval Academy Dairy Farm.
After advice and counsel from State and local agriculture experts, the County will offer the current tenant farmer, dba Maryland Sunrise Farm, a short-term lease that will extend through December 31, 2014, to conventionally farm the land. In addition, a Letter of Intent (similar to Request for Proposal) will soon be issued in which the County will seek farmers interested in farming the land using organic protocols. If the County is unable to identify a farmer interested in farming organic, the current tenant farmer will be given a long-term lease to impose measures that will restore the land to make organic farming, once again, a viable option.
“We’ve heard from residents in Gambrills about the future of the Dairy Farm and we know that preserving the farm is important to them, as well as the county,” said County Executive Neuman. “Our primary goal is to make sure the land is farmed in a responsible way. As a result, we are doing our due diligence by working with the current tenant, who has been a good steward of the land for more than a decade, and the community by seeking a farmer who might be able to embrace organic farming.”
Under the negotiated agreement with the current tenant farmer, both parties have agreed to the following provisions:
- Anne Arundel County will complete the Letter of Intent process and provide notice to the current tenant farmer by July 1, 2014, concerning the status of the current lease and whether a long-term lease will be offered going forward.
- The new lease will prorate taxes due from the current tenant farmer through December 31, 2014.
- The crops currently farmed for the use of the CSA, which operates out of the Dairy Farm, will continue to be farmed organically, as well as the products produced for farmers markets and cattle-grazing.
- The tenant farmer will continue to engage in community activities such as the 4-H Dairy Leasing Club, Wounded Warriors Program, public school farm tours and fundraisers at Arundel High School, through December 31, 2014.
- If there is a new farmer in 2015, the lease will stipulate the multi-species cover crops planted by the current tenant farmer cannot be disturbed until after March 1, 2015, and MDA Cover Crop guidelines must be followed. If such cover crop is disturbed, the County will reimburse the current tenant farmer the appropriate cost.
- The current tenant farmer has agreed to share information related to soil test results and its Nutrient Management Plan to qualified Letter of Intent respondents, as identified by the County.
- The new, negotiated lease for the current tenant farmer through December 31, 2014, will have no stipulation for organic farming, with the exception of the continuation of the Organic CSA Garden.
- The tenant farmer will continue operating the farm in the same thoughtful way through diligence and stewardship of the land by focusing on soil health, minimizing the negative effects on the tributaries of the Bay, using precision agriculture and intensive pasture grazing rotation.
Anne Arundel County held a town hall meeting on February 11 with interested parties to discuss the Dairy Farm. The meeting was prompted by a decision by the tenant farmer who indicated a need to discontinue farming a portion of the land using organic protocols and, instead, farm the cropland (feed product) employing conventional agriculture methods. The tenant farmer has cited in his decision to change course in methods after 15 years of organic farming that the cropland has developed a significant weed bank and high phosphorus levels. Organic practices, he contends, rely heavily upon cultivation for weed control and several areas of the farm are highly erodible, making frequent cultivation a less-desirable option. Because of this, exacerbated by the pressure of a large wild deer herd (estimated at 250+ head) feeding on these lands, crop yields have been decreasing annually.
Since the town hall meeting, Anne Arundel County officials have been in negotiations with the tenant farmer to gauge his interest in continuing to farm organically. A team has now been assembled, and is developing the scope of work for a Letter of Intent that will allow the County to solicit bids from other stakeholders interested in farming organically.
Maryland Sunrise Farm is the only Md. Department of Agriculture-certified organic farm in Anne Arundel County out of 377 farms located here. Maryland Sunrise Farms operates on 680 acres of 857 acres of farm land leased by the County. The County pays $240,000 annually for the lease of the Dairy Farm land. The tenant farmer pays close to $50,000 per year, which includes taxes, building maintenance and ancillary costs associated with Maryland Sunrise Farms. The County holds a 30-year lease on the property, which commenced in 2007.