OPINION: Bill to Promote Agricultural Tourism Moving Forward

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

I am proud to represent our strong agriculture community in Southern Maryland and have fought for their interests since I was first elected to public office in 1974.

This year’s General Assembly Session has been good for farmers and the agricultural industry. It will get even better if House Bill 621 – Admissions and Amusement Tax – Exemption for Activities Related to Agricultural Tourism, sponsored by Delegate Paul Stull (R-Frederick), passes and is signed into law.

House Bill 621 authorizes a county or municipal corporation to exempt from the admissions and amusement tax gross receipts from any admissions and amusement charge for activities related to agricultural tourism. Delegate Stull’s legislation – which I strongly support – recognizes the hard work of the farmers and offers them a special tax exemption on “agro-tourism” activities.

Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties have already set the standard by offering this tax exemption. If passed, this bill would be applicable to every county in the state which would go a long way toward protecting and promoting farms and agriculture in Maryland.

Currently, a county or municipality is authorized to charge an admissions and amusement tax. This bill would reverse that authorization.

Maryland’s rich history has long fueled a vibrant market for tourism. Why shouldn’t it? By the time the rest of the nation was forming, Maryland had well-established farms and plantations.

While watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, Patuxent, Potomac, Wicomico and other state waterways were making the Blue Crab a symbol of our Maryland Heritage, legislators in Annapolis were forming the statute of the day and paving the way for growth and further stability for our state and her natural resources.

As Maryland’s agriculture continues to evolve, so did the economy and a deeper reliance on import-export relationships with other states and countries.

Over this time, this affected Maryland’s agriculture in a way that had Marylanders relying less on its own farmers. Since that time, Maryland’s leaders, lawmakers and farmers have been working together to devise ways in which the timeless tradition of farming and agriculture in Maryland can continue.

This tradition remains alive through a fresh and exciting concept called “agro-tourism.” In recent years, corn mazes, “haunted” barns, pumpkin patches and various fun family activities have allowed farmers to bring in some sorely needed revenue to their farms. They have wisely exploited their resources and land to provide a unique service to the community while continuing to promote the heritage of the Maryland Farm.

Discussion about promoting agro-tourism came up several times during meetings of the Maryland Agriculture Stewardship Commission last year. This Commission, of which I served as a member, was established by law to bolster the importance of the agricultural committee.

What came out of the Maryland Agriculture Stewardship Commission was the establishment of the Agriculture Task Force in 2006. I am pleased to be the co-chair of this very important Task Force which will continue to address agricultural issues and will give me the opportunity to stand up for the interests of the industry.

Because of the Maryland Agriculture Stewardship Commission and the Agriculture Task Force, good bills like House Bill 621 should come to fruition with strong support.

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