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Sowing the seeds of jurisprudence

  • Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Dec. 4, 2013) - Add halls of justice to the pastures, barns and broiler houses where UMES is working to fulfill its public-service mission as a land-grant institution and counselor-in-the-field to agriculture interests.

    Professors Henry Brooks, Jurgen Schwarz, Stephan Tubene and Dean Moses Kairo of the School of Agriculture and Natural Sciences represent the university in a new outreach venture, the Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative. They are partnering with colleagues from University System of Maryland campuses in College Park and Baltimore "to assess the legal needs" of the state's farm families and identify the best ways to help address their needs.

    MD Ag Law Education InitiativeThe initiative launched a year ago with a $250,000 legislative appropriation, a response to a 2010 lawsuit where an environmental group unsuccessfully sued a Berlin farmer it accused of polluting the Pocomoke River and subsequently the Chesapeake Bay. A federal judge ruled in the farmer's favor in December 2012.

    The legal action pitted environmentalists against Maryland's agriculture community and focused attention on issues the state's 12,800 farmers confront, including regulatory compliance, right-to-farm laws and estate planning.

    "The assessment process has been enlightening for all of us," said Teresa LaMaster, an associate dean at the University of Maryland's law school in Baltimore.

    Researchers met with stakeholders and government officials; initiated a survey of 109 Maryland Extension Service members; and coordinated production of material explaining right-to-farm laws and estate planning.

    While the initiative is state-wide in scope, Schwarz said the initial focus is on the Eastern Shore, where farmers are often viewed as a source of environmental problems.

    "The laws and regulations are often very complex," Schwarz said. "That was one area of concern we heard from stakeholders."

    "We put an emphasis on understanding their needs," he said.

    Workshops on leasing, crop insurance and how to pass the family business on to descendants are in the works as is a website to provide access to national resources and the research group's findings. Changes in training extension educators also are being considered.

    Few attorneys specialize in agriculture law, another dilemma for farmers who find themselves needing legal advice.

    The UM law school is looking to put more emphasis on agriculture law in its curriculum, and a Baltimore law firm recently announced it would assign attorneys to specialize in the subject. UMES also will be exploring ways it can broaden students' exposure to legal issues they might encounter after graduation, Kairo said.

    "Providing support to family farms is at the core of our mission as a land-grant institution and UMES is bringing its expertise to the table, which we think will be beneficial," Kairo said.

    Bill Robinson, director, public relations,(410) 621-2355