By Krista Pfunder
A facility in Lothian that stores crops for farmers—known as a grain elevator—is set to close, leaving the region’s farmers scrambling to find alternate storage and local leaders trying to find a way to keep it open.
Calls started coming in to Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s office last week from farmers alerting him that the Perdue grain elevator will be closing March 31.
“The Lothian facility is very important to farmers who work about 300 acres or less of commodity crops (crops that can be traded),” says James Raley of Valentine’s Delight Farms in Bushwood. “These farmers generally do not have on-farm storage so they need someplace to deliver their crops at harvest.”
In a January 19 statement, Pittman wrote, “This grain elevator serves farmers in all five southern Maryland counties. Small operators who do not have their own storage silos are dependent on this single facility to get their product to market.”
The closure came as a surprise to local farmers.
“Local farmers did not learn of the closing until the first week of January,” Raley says. “Many farmers who have on-farm storage had plans to sell and deliver product to Lothian during the winter months. The counties the elevator serves are home to 2,037 farms comprising a little over 189,000 acres.”
For Perdue, it’s a business decision. The company says as the amount of county farmland shrinks, the demand for grain storage does, too. “Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, we have seen a significant reduction in Anne Arundel County farmland, including a 30 percent reduction in total harvested grain acres,” Scott Fredericksen, president of Perdue AgriBusiness said in a statement.
The closest alternative to the Lothian grain elevator is one located at Curtis Bay, but it accepts only soybeans and is reportedly in disrepair.
“The next option would be to truck grain to elevators on the Eastern Shore, but trucking that far during harvest would require a fleet of reliable trucks and drivers that don’t exist,” Pittman’s statement read. “Perdue is well aware of the role that grain elevators play in a local ag industry, and they know that grain farmers plan crops a year in advance. Their seed and fertilizer are purchased, and they need to know that their crops will have a buyer in the fall.”
Perdue says it is looking for solutions, including finding a possible buyer for the grain elevator. “Perdue is more than willing to assist the Southern Maryland agricultural community with identifying viable solutions,” says Fredericksen.
Raley says that his fellow farmers are hoping the local grain elevator remains open. The cost of transporting crops can add up quickly, Raley explains.
“A farmer in Southern Maryland can use his own truck to go to Lothian at a minimal cost,” Raley says. “If the farmer has to contract with a hauling company to transport product elsewhere, it will cost approximately 50 cents to 70 cents per bushel to haul the product. If a farmer harvests 20,000 bushels of soybeans he could be paying $14,000 to hire someone to haul his product to the Eastern Shore.”
In his statement, Fredericksen suggests Perdue may offer financial support. “Taking care of our farmers is very important to us, and we are working to assist those farmers that are inconvenienced by this closure with logistical costs.”
The company will stop receiving grain deliveries on Feb. 26. Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder says the state agency is working with all parties to find a solution.