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Horse Sense for Frederick County?

June 2, 2005

by Jack Lynch

A Maryland Horse Park sounds like a premier idea, and it sounds perfect for Frederick, but it raises alarms as being a backdoor for slots, and at least represents a significant lottery for counties to compete to give away the farm.

Apparently there could be a back story, it seems that somebody stirred this pot, that some intense preparation and lobbying may already be done for Cecil and Hartford counties, the horse is out of the padlock, so to speak, and the public release of an RFP last month was apparently little noted here until recent days. 

Curiously, while we get gubernatorial threats of the Preakness leaving town and the track owners not investing in common upkeep of facilities, we’re getting this secondary level of horse promotion.  It doesn’t quite make horse sense.

But even a jaded eye towards Interstate highways and geographic locations for potential slots would not exclude Frederick County, and we’ve got the horse industry here, and plenty of lovely pasture land available.

Taking at look at the numbers in the Census of Agriculture and the Maryland Farm bureau website yields an interesting conjunction of facts about the local horse industry and farming of crops and animal husbandry. 

On 22,000 Frederick County acres with 8,290 horses, horse interests employ 3,570 people.  Compare that to the 215,927 acres of other farms that only employ 1,273  people, and only 714 principally as farmers.  A tenth of the amount of land supports three times as many employment opportunities with horses. 

Similar numbers apply in both Montgomery and Carroll counties.  Loudoun County in Virginia has long been known for its horse property.  We’re becoming a land of the horse gentry.  Or, at least we’ve got a great deal more horse activity in Frederick County than little girl’s backyard ponies.  Farm interests need to come out on this one, and not fall victim to any potential dissonance between the dairy and horse interests.

While dairy business is marginal and in decline, the horse farms, yielding great economic benefits, offer an opportunity for traditional farmers to produce hay for sale as an ancillary income source.

And horse interests are good stewards and partners in land preservation efforts, for one thing, you can’t ride a horse on that one acre you need to graze it.  You require contiguous farms, just ride through Middleburg in Virginia or our own little enclave south of Middletown and you’ll see much of our preserved land.

We need to consider horse farms in land preservation.  Currently, horse farms are technically not eligible for land preservation programs from the state because they’ve never been defined in preservation programs as farms.

The criticism of horse farms has been pollution and land impacts.  But if the horse set is inexperienced in those matters, again our traditional farmers can lend a few inputs.  We need to build those partnerships and not look at the newcomers as hobbyists that break up large old farms for their single interests.

To talk horses and cows means talking manure.  Manure per cow averages 50 pounds a day, and a horse averages 40 pounds per day.  During grazing season, 9000 pounds of manure are deposited per cow, and 7200 pounds per horse.  Also during the grazing season, each cow deposits about 38, 8, and 8 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in manure, and during the same time each horse drops 40, 10, and 24 pounds of the same nutrients in manure. 

A mitigating factor is acreage requirements.  But as we envision changes in agricultural land operations, we need to keep an eye on water quality impacts and runoff and waste.  At least with a horse facility, we’ll have a few jobs sweeping up, along with the extended jobs and economic benefits. 

We need to be realistic about the prospects of success, but we also need to throw our hat in the ring.