As Maryland embarks on the journey of reopening and rebuilding in the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, it’s imperative that we do not overlook agriculture, our state’s largest commercial industry. Agriculture contributes more than $8 billion to the state economy annually and puts about 350,000 Marylanders to work.

The tragic incident at the bridge shocked us all, and our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, and we applaud the heroic efforts of first responders. While much attention has rightly been given to the economic repercussions of the Port of Baltimore’s closure, there’s been a glaring omission in discussions — the profound impact on Maryland’s thriving agricultural sector.

Maryland’s fertile soil and abundance of sustainability-minded farmers have resulted in a flourishing agricultural sector, with the largest growing commodity being soybeans. Between 2017 and 2022, Maryland increased its soybean yield by 19,000 acres, for a total of 531,904 acres harvested a year.

The quality of our agricultural products coupled with our strategic coastal location has attracted international interest, with last year’s soybean exports from the Port of Baltimore alone valued at a staggering $243 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The temporary closure of the port, however, has thrown our farmers into uncertainty. Longtime Maryland Farm Bureau members, such as the Lippy Brothers, a farm that had containers of soybeans on the Dali ship, are now grappling with logistical challenges.

What would normally be a short drive to Maryland’s flagship port has resulted in farmers taking their haul to Norfolk or Philadelphia, losing time, money, and precious tax revenue for our state. Moreover, many haulers face transportation hurdles with some major highways still not allowing heavy-duty trucks.

Many other sectors across Maryland that rely on the Port of Baltimore are facing the same problems our farmers are. We sympathize and empathize with their predicament, but the truth remains: If our farmers can’t make a living, Maryland’s local food supply chain is in jeopardy.

Day in and day out, Maryland farmers work hard to ensure our communities have access to fresh, sustainable and nutritious food. Their efforts not only nourish our population but also sustain our state’s economy. It’s imperative that our public officials prioritize the reopening of the port with due consideration for agriculture’s pivotal role.

Let’s ensure that as we rebuild, we aren’t leaving our farmers behind. Their resilience and dedication deserve support as we chart a path forward for a stronger, more resilient Maryland.

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Belinda Burrier, Union Bridge

Belinda Burrier is a member of the Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors and is co-owner of Burrier’s Linganore Farm.

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