By: Daily Times Editorial Board
Date: November 9th 2016
Agricultural land makes up a substantial and important portion of Maryland's lower Eastern Shore, and the Maryland Farm Bureau is a vital advocacy organization for farmlands, farmers and poultry growers.
There has always been a certain tension between developers and farmers — between those who see the greatest value in keeping agricultural land in active farming and those who believe the owners of farmland should have options because the greater part of a farmer's equity exists in the value of his land.
Before the housing market collapsed in 2008-09, Shore farmers were concerned with making sure they had the option to sell their land for development when they retired or if farming became unprofitable, because their wealth was tied up in that land. Land conservationists lobbied to restrict that right so that our farmland wasn't all converted to housing developments in pursuit of wealth.
Today, it's different.
Farmers see the growth of solar facilities (apparently the word "farm" is not to be used in the same sentence with "solar") as a threat to the existence of farmland. They and their advocacy organization, the Farm Bureau, would like to see solar energy development curtailed.
Whether solar energy is a good deal financially or environmentally is not the issue here.
Whether solar panels are attractive as part of the landscape is not the point either.
The real issue is that farmers lobbied nearly a decade ago against restriction of residential development as a violation of their property rights because they wanted to keep the option viable so they could cash in at retirement or before, if necessary.
Today, however, do they oppose allowing the option to switch from growing crops to generating solar energy because that might provide a better return on investment or lead to an improved cash flow?
On Virginia's Eastern Shore, Accomack County officials oppose the prospect of more solar panel intrusion, while a local family claims solar and agriculture can co-exist. A proposed project would have solar panels spread across 174 acres of a 200-acre tract, but occupying just 30 percent to 40 percent of that land, leaving plenty of room for a flock of sheep to graze around those panels. A win-win, as they say.
That's not all. Solar panels don't have to stay in on place forever. They can easily be removed and the land returned to its original use.
Let's be careful not to legislate away a farmer's right to use his greatest asset for his own benefit.
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