Farmers look for alternatives if buyer isn’t found
By Krista Pfunder
Just weeks after CBM Bay Weekly reported a grain elevator was set to close in Southern Maryland, Perdue reverses course, saying it will remain open another two years. That gives area farmers a chance to come up with alternatives—and a chance for a buyer to step up.
The Perdue AgriBusiness facility, which stores crops, serves farmers in five Southern Maryland counties and was set to close by March 31. Recognizing that the elevator plays an important role in local agriculture, Perdue has committed to keeping the elevator open while looking for a suitable buyer.
“We understand the hardship closing the Lothian facility would have on some Maryland farmers and have decided to keep it open for at least the next two years,” says Scott Fredericksen, president of Perdue AgriBusiness.
“While the facility does not fit our long-term business strategy, driven by the dramatic loss of farmland in the region, we remain committed to working with the Southern Maryland agricultural community and Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder to find a viable solution.”
Perdue pointed to a reduction in profits at the facility as the reason for the closure, announced last month [see Closing of Grain Elevator Leaves Farmers in a Lurch in the Jan. 28 issue of CBM Bay Weekly].
Perdue is in the process of notifying farmers of its intentions to keep the Anne Arundel County facility open for now and of its long-term plans. In January, Perdue said they would be working closely with local farmers to minimize the impact, including assisting farmers affected by the closure with logistical costs.
“We remain committed to being very transparent with area farmers and taking care of their needs,” said Fredericksen.
Farmer James Raley of Bushwood takes exception to Perdue’s claim regarding loss of farmland. “Yes, there was a loss of farmland to development for a couple of decades, but that was essentially stopped by former Governor O’Malley with the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012,” Raley says.
He thinks the reduction in profitability is largely due to Perdue’s pricing structure. Raley says he is essentially paying Perdue to ship his soybeans to another Perdue location for processing.
Perdue’s announcement has sparked discussion among local farmers.
“If Lothian is not profitable for Perdue, how can a local group of farmers or some similar cooperative group run the grain elevator at a profit?” Raley asks.
The two-year deadline gives farmers opportunities to find alternatives to the Lothian facility.
“Farmers can build on-farm grain storage facilities,” Raley says. “The Department of Agriculture has very attractive financial programs for building grain bins which lets farmers hold harvests until prices are higher and shipping costs are lower—aka, more profit.”
Another option is to find alternative transport.
“Farmers can purchase their own trucks or make long-term arrangements with truckers,” Raley says. “Arrangements could be made at Lothian that if product is shipped from Lothian to the Eastern Shore, poultry litter could be brought back from the shore and stored at Lothian,” Raley says. “Farmers in Southern Maryland could then back-haul the litter for use as fertilizer on their farms. But this would require government assistance to make this happen.”
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman — whose office is fielding calls from concerned farmers — is helping find a solution.
“I will be working with local farmers and my peers in the southern Maryland counties to strengthen the infrastructure that supports local farming, including this grain elevator,” Pittman says.