Q & A with Maryland farmer Wayne Stafford

Land encroachment is a problem in this Mid-Atlantic state.

Wayne Stafford is the new president of Maryland Farm Bureau. He grows corn, soybeans, small grains, and hay, and he raises cattle with his family near Childs, Maryland. 

SF: What is the history of your farm?

WS: We started in Delaware with dairy, produce, poultry, pigs, and a butcher shop. When Interstate 95 was built in 1963, it split the farm. My dad took the dairy and moved it to Cecil County (Maryland). 

We milked cows until 12 years ago. When milk prices got low, we got into beef cattle. We still continue the row crops, and I do a lot of custom work.

I’m 63, so I am focused on the next generation. My son, Jeff, has a beef cattle business. He finishes everything he raises, and it is direct-marketed to consumers. He does halves and wholes, plus specialty products like sticks, jerky, and all-beef hot dogs. My grandson has a pork business and is trying to get his foot in the door with farming.  

SF: Why did your family get into selling direct?

WS: You need to control the end result, eliminate the middleman. With my corn and soybeans, I get what they give me. I have no control over that. The buy-local movement has helped. More people with no connection to agriculture want to know where their food comes from.

We are in a unique situation in Maryland, because we are close to urban areas. If you are in the middle of nowhere, direct marketing is not an option. We try to take advantage of what we have here. Jeff works with a local dairy farmer to sell gift boxes of cheese and beef sticks. Sales exploded last year. They can’t keep them in stock. People want to buy local. However, direct- marketing projects, such as selling ice cream and cheese from your dairy, are expensive ventures. 

SF: What local issues are you dealing with?

WS: There has been a loss of ground, encroachment, the past few years. We’ve also had a lot of Amish move into our area. They’ve bought farms on either side of me. We’ve lost rental ground, so we are doing more custom work.

SF: Do you work with the Amish?

WS: I sell them hay and straw. Amish dairy farmers are hurting, too. The ones who grow tobacco can keep their heads above water, but it’s tough. Our two neighbors are wonderful people. They came from Lancaster County (Pennsylvania), which is being commercialized rapidly. They have to move out to find land. When Maryland approved homeschooling, that opened the door for the Amish to move here.

SF:  Is land at a premium?

WS: Farmers in Pennsylvania are willing to pay $200 to $300 an acre for rent. They need the land. One Amish farmer near me paid over $13,000 an acre to buy poor ground. We can’t expand the herd because we don’t have enough pasture. We would like to separate our spring calving and fall calving cows.

SF: What is your goal as Maryland Farm Bureau president?

WS: I want to reach out and build the organization membership-wise. For example, the equine industry is huge in Maryland. We have learned to work together and to help each other in Annapolis. We need to provide a larger, stronger voice for Maryland farmers. We’ve lost a lot of dairy farms in the past two years.

SF: What are the top issues for Maryland Farm Bureau?

WS: Fighting anti-ag bills in the legislature, getting ag education in our schools, and land preservation. Urban counties in Maryland make up 90% of the legislators, so we are fighting an uphill battle.

SF: Do urban legislators listen to farmers?

WS: Most of them, but some of them don’t want to talk to you. They are the ones who are the loudest and have off-the-wall agendas. Some want to eliminate animal agriculture. They don’t make any bones about it. You have to develop relationships, even if you don’t agree philosophically. Most of the legislators from the Eastern Shore have rural backgrounds and understand farming. Western Maryland is also rural, but slower paced and ultra conservative. 

SF: Maryland is a challenging state, isn’t it?

WS: We have more square miles of shoreline than any state in the country. It’s the hardest state to travel around. There are five rivers in Cecil County alone. You can’t go from here to there without going around.

SF: Do farmers have to be more involved in politics?

WS: Yes. I never imagined myself in this position. I got involved in Maryland Farm Bureau through the Young Farmer program. You need to get involved and get other people involved to lighten the workload.

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