July 31, 2014 - August 6, 2014
Statement by President Obama on Malaysian Flight Over Ukraine
By Press Officer
Office of The White House
July 17, 2014
THE PRESIDENT:? Good morning, everybody.
Yesterday, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 took off from Amsterdam and was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border. Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken -- men, women, children, infants -- who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine. Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.
We know at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.
Yesterday, I spoke with the leaders of Ukraine, Malaysia, and the Netherlands. I told them that our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and that the American people stand with them during this difficult time. Later today, I’ll be speaking to Prime Minister Abbott of Australia, which also suffered a terrible loss.
By far, the country that lost the most people on board the plane was the Netherlands. From the days of our founding, the Dutch have been close friends and stalwart allies of the United States of America. And today, I want the Dutch people to know that we stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in our grief and in our absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened.
Here’s what we know so far. Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine. We also know that this is not the first time a plane has been shot down in eastern Ukraine. Over the last several weeks, Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia. This includes arms and training. It includes heavy weapons, and it includes anti-aircraft weapons.
Here’s what must happen now. This was a global tragedy. An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies, filled with citizens from many countries. So there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. The U.N. Security Council has endorsed this investigation, and we will hold all its members -- including Russia -- to their word. In order to facilitate that investigation, Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire. Evidence must not be tampered with. Investigators need to access the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those who were lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.
The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that is necessary. We’ve already offered the support of the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, which has experience in working with international partners on these types of investigations. They are on their way, personnel from the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board.
In the coming hours and days, I’ll continue to be in close contact with leaders from around the world as we respond to this catastrophe. Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.
I want to point out there will likely be misinformation as well. I think it's very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is simply speculation. No one can deny the truth that is revealed in the awful images that we all have seen. And the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.
More broadly, I think it's important for us to recognize that this outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine. For months, we’ve supported a pathway to peace, and the Ukrainian government has reached out to all Ukrainians, put forward a peace plan, and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations by the separatists -- violations that took the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and personnel.
Moreover, time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to deescalate the situation. I spoke to President Putin yesterday in the wake of additional sanctions that we had imposed. He said he wasn’t happy with them, and I told him that we have been very clear from the outset that we want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine, but so far at least, Russia has failed to take that path. Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists. It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire. That’s why, together with our allies, we’ve imposed growing costs on Russia.
So now is, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look at what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences. Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting. Meanwhile, the United States is going to continue to lead efforts within the world community to de-escalate the situation; to stand up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; and to support the people of Ukraine as they courageously work to strengthen their democracy and make their own decisions about how they should move forward.
Before I take just a couple of questions let me remark on one other issue. This morning, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel about the situation in Gaza. We discussed Israel’s military operation in Gaza, including its efforts to stop the threat of terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel. I reaffirmed my strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself. No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory. In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv.
I also made clear that the United States, and our friends and allies, are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life. And that’s why we’ve indicated, although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels, and we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012.
Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt’s initiative to pursue that outcome. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that John is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations.
Let me close by making one additional comment. On board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, there were apparently nearly 100 researchers and advocates traveling to an international conference in Australia dedicated to combating AIDS/HIV. These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.
In this world today, we shouldn’t forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these -- people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed; people who are focused on how they can help people that they’ve never met; people who define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common. It’s important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives. And it’s time for us to heed their example.
The United States of America is going to continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose; that nations have the right to determine their own destiny; and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.
So with that, let me take just a couple questions. I’ll start with you, Julie.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Just on a technical matter, does the U.S. believe that this passenger jet was targeted, or that those people who shot it down may have been going after a military -- thought they were going after a military aircraft? And more broadly, this incident does seem to escalate the crisis in Ukraine to a level we haven’t seen before. Does that change your calculus in terms of what the U.S. and perhaps Europe should be doing in terms of a response?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s too early for us to be able to guess what the intentions of those who might have launched this surface-to-air missile might have had. The investigation is going to be ongoing, and I think what we’ll see is additional information surfacing over the next 24 hours, 72 hours, the next week, the next month.
What we know right now, what we have confidence in saying right now is that a surface-to-air missile was fired and that's what brought the jet down. We know -- or we have confidence in saying that shot was taken within a territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.
But I think it’s very important for us to make sure that we don't get out ahead of the facts. And at this point, in terms of identifying specifically what individual or group of individuals or personnel ordered the strike, how it came about, those are things that I think are still going to be subject to additional information that we’re going to be gathering. And we’re working with the entire international community to make sure that the focus is on getting to the bottom of this thing and being truthful.
And my concern is obviously that there’s been a lot of misinformation generated in eastern Ukraine generally. This should snap everybody’s heads to attention and make sure that we don't have time for propaganda, we don't have time for games. We need to know exactly what happened. And everybody needs to make sure that we’re holding accountable those who committed this outrage.
With respect to the second question, as you’re aware, before this terrible incident happened we had already ratcheted up sanctions against Russia. And I think the concern not just of Russian officials but of the markets about the impact that this could have on the Russian economy is there for all to see.
I made clear to President Putin that our preferred path is to resolve this diplomatically. But that means that he and the Russian government have to make a strategic decision: Are they going to continue to support violent separatists whose intent is to undermine the government of Ukraine? Or are they prepared to work with the government of Ukraine to arrive at a cease-fire and a peace that takes into account the interests of all Ukrainians?
There has been some improved language at times over the last month coming from the Kremlin and coming from President Putin, but what we have not seen is an actual transition and different actions that would give us confidence that that's the direction that they want to take.
And we will continue to make clear that as Russia engages in efforts that are supporting the separatists, that we have the capacity to increase the costs that we impose on them. And we will do so. Not because we’re interested in hurting Russia for the sake of hurting Russia, but because we believe in standing up for the basic principle that a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be respected, and it is not the United States or Russia or Germany or any other country that should be deciding what happens in that country.
Q At this point do you see any U.S. military role that could be effective?
THE PRESIDENT: We don't see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic States, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations.
Q Sir, thank you. How much blame for this do you put on President Putin? And will you use this incident now to push the Europeans for stronger action?
THE PRESIDENT: We don't exactly know what happened yet, and I don't want to, as I said before, get out ahead of the facts. But what I do know is, is that we have seen a ticking up of violence in eastern Ukraine that, despite the efforts of the Ukrainian government to abide by a cease-fire and to reach out and agree to negotiations, including with the separatists, that has been rebuffed by these separatists. We know that they are heavily armed and that they are trained. And we know that that’s not an accident. That is happening because of Russian support.
So it is not possible for these separatists to function the way they’re functioning, to have the equipment that they have -- set aside what’s happened with respect to the Malaysian Airlines -- a group of separatists can’t shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training. And that is coming from Russia.
So we don’t yet know exactly what happened with respect to the Malaysian Airlines, although obviously we’re beginning to draw some conclusions given the nature of the shot that was fired. There are only certain types of anti-aircraft missiles that can reach up 30,000 feet and shoot down a passenger jet. We have increasing confidence that it came from areas controlled by the separatists. But without having a definitive judgment on those issues yet, what we do know is, is that the violence that’s taking place there is facilitated in part -- in large part -- because of Russian support. And they have the ability to move those separatists in a different direction.
If Mr. Putin makes a decision that we are not going to allow heavy armaments and the flow of fighters into Ukraine across the Ukrainian-Russian border, then it will stop. And if it stops, then the separatists will still have the capacity to enter into negotiations and try to arrive at the sort of political accommodations that Mr. Putin himself says he wants to see. He has the most control over that situation, and so far, at least, he has not exercised it.
Q Tougher sanctions in Europe -- will you push for them?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that this certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine; that it is not going to be localized, it is not going to be contained. What we’ve seen here is -- just in one country alone, our great allies, the Dutch, 150 or more of their citizens being killed. And that, I think, sadly brings home the degree to which the stakes are high for Europe, not simply for the Ukrainian people, and that we have to be firm in our resolve in making sure that we are supporting Ukraine in its efforts to bring about a just cease-fire and that we can move towards a political solution to this.
I’m going to make this the last question. Lisa Lerer, Bloomberg.
Q Do we know yet if there were other Americans on board beyond the person you mentioned? And how do you prevent stricter restrictions, economic sanctions from shocking the global economy and --
THE PRESIDENT: We have been pretty methodical over the last 24 hours in working through the flight manifest and identifying which passengers might have had a U.S. passport. At this point, the individual that I mentioned is the sole person that we can definitively say was a U.S. or dual citizen.
Because events are moving so quickly, I don’t want to say with absolute certainty that there might not be additional Americans, but at this stage, having worked through the list, been in contact with the Malaysian government, which processed the passports as folks were boarding, this is our best assessment of the number of Americans that were killed. Obviously that does nothing to lessen our outrage about all those families. Regardless of nationality, it is a heartbreaking event.
With respect to the effect of sanctions on the economy, we have consistently tried to tailor these sanctions in ways that would have an impact on Russia, on their economy, on their institutions or individuals that are aiding and abetting in the activities that are taking place in eastern Ukraine, while minimizing the impacts on not only the U.S. economy but the global economy.
It is a relevant consideration that we have to keep in mind. The world economy is integrated; Russia is a large economy; there’s a lot of financial flows between Russia and the rest of the world. But we feel confident that at this point the sanctions that we’ve put in place are imposing a cost on Russia, that their overall impact on the global economy is minimal. It is something that we have to obviously pay close attention to, but I think Treasury, in consultation with our European partners, have done a good job so far on that issue.
Thank you very much, everybody.
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PGCPS Receives $3 Million To Open Two New High Schools
By PRESS OFFICER
UPPER MARLBORO, MD – Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) was recently awarded a $3 million grant to open two new public high schools for underserved and at-risk students in the county.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York will fund the development of the schools, through an existing partnership between PGCPS, Internationals Network for Public Schools, and CASA de Maryland.
“We have a wonderful partnership with these organizations and securing this grant allows us to work collectively to provide our students with a valuable education,” said Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools. “We serve a very diverse student population where academic support and language services must be integrated for our students' success. These schools will enable us to do that more effectively."
The two PGCPS CASA-
Internationals Community Schools are designed to improve achievement rates amongst English Language Learners (ELL) and will be the first of their kind in the county. The schools will provide immigrant students, as well as those who are economically disadvantaged and prospective first generation college attendees, with an innovative opportunity to complete their high school diploma. Students will develop a commitment to learning, a capacity for critical thinking, an understanding of their future role as community leaders, and gain the academic skills necessary to achieve future success. Additionally, the schools will serve as a community resource for students and their families to ensure that their adjustment needs are met.
In the county, 12% of the students receive ELL services. The 2012-2013 four-year cohort graduation rate for ELL students who entered ninth grade during the 2009-2010 school year was 63.03%, below the county’s overall graduation rate of 74.12%. Additionally, about 47% of the district’s graduates enroll in college, while only 32% of ELL graduates enroll in college.
“The development of these schools is an important step in addressing the serious challenges facing Prince George’s County, especially the Langley Park community,” said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland.
Each year, the schools will add a cohort of approximately 100 students per grade until serving at least 400 students in grades nine through twelve. One school will be within the Langley Park area, optional for all students in Langley Park, and the other school will be for new English language learners as a school-within-a-school in another part of the county. The schools are expected to open at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
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Pigtown, Business Owners Want Gamblers To Stop By
By CASSIDY STERLING
Capital News Service
BALTIMORE – It’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon, but Café Jovial on Washington Boulevard is bustling with customers picking up lunch and friends chatting over coffee.
Behind the counter is Dede Kassa, the cafe’s waitress/cook/barista -- in fact, its entire staff. She opens her cafe at 6 a.m. most days. She has no commute. Kassa, 47, and her husband live in the apartment upstairs, overlooking the main street of the southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown.
Her cafe, with its exposed-brick walls, is narrow and cozy. A few tables fill the front of the shop. The works of local artists decorate the walls. Most customers are regulars, and she knows many of their orders by heart.
“It’s the kind of place where people can come together,” said Ben Hyman, executive director of Pigtown Main Street. “Every neighborhood needs a small meeting spot to bring people together. She provides it.”
From the sidewalk outside the cafe’s narrow entryway, Kassa can see the light standards of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The schools of the University of Maryland, Baltimore lie just a few blocks north. And less than a mile south, building cranes are working on the site of the Horseshoe Casino, set to open in late summer.
Kassa thinks the casino can help speed the revival of Pigtown -- which got its name in the days when pigs were unloaded off rail cars and run through the streets to butcher shops. In recent years, the neighborhood was given the more dignified name of Washington Village, but many -- including the local business association -- prefer to call it Pigtown.
“Everyone is expecting the casino to contribute money to the community,” she said. “A lot of shops have been opening, and we think we’re going to benefit from the casino.”
“Great business potential”
Hyman says 10 new businesses have come to Washington Boulevard commercial strip in the last 18 months.
Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat, opened the 2 Chic Boutique at the corner of Washington Boulevard and West Barre Street last winter. “I think the casino will absolutely help,” she said. On game days, “people walk by and stop in,” she said. “We hope the casino will help similarly.”
“There is a lot of great business potential in Pigtown,” Pugh said. “We need to bring in more business that the neighborhood really wants, more restaurants, retail, the high-quality services the neighborhood deserves.”
Hyman thinks the neighborhood will get some notice from casino visitors, perhaps from those “looking for something to do before or after they’re done gambling.”
Kassa certainly hopes the casino will help her cafe.
“Business every day is a struggle,” she said. “We need more traffic, so I’m hoping the neighborhood will change and bring in more customers.”
Some residents are worried that crime will increase with the casino’s opening, “but I don’t see it,” Kassa said. “We don’t get crime from the games, but we also don’t get fans to come visit and spend money.”
A diverse neighborhood
Since Hyman took over Pigtown Main Street in 2012, he said, he worked to bring more police patrols into the neighborhood. It has made business owners more comfortable, he said, and some are staying open later.
The 50-acre neighborhood is one of most diverse in the city. The neighborhood is about 50 percent black, 40 percent white, with Asian, Hispanic and other groups composing the rest, according to 2011 statistics compiled by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.
The ethnic diversity shows in the neighborhood array of business that feature international food and clothing.
Kassa, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, moved to New York when she was 18. That was 1985, in the midst of a famine that the United Nations estimates killed a million people in Ethiopia.
She has also lived in Washington and Texas. She and her husband, Richard, who is also Ethiopian, left Dallas to be closer to family in Northern Virginia and to be in a market where her husband can work at construction jobs.
Kassa wanted to open up a cafe. The couple settled on Pigtown after hearing of a vacancy from Ethiopian friends here.
That was 2 ½ years ago, and Kassa wants to stay forever. “I love the neighborhood so much,” she said. “The people here are great."
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Defendants Who Fail to Come to Court Burden Maryland Judicial System
By TAMIEKA BRISCOE
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS-- In 2013, there were over 41,000 cases where criminal defendants failed to show up to court in the state, according to Maryland District Court records. Defendants missed scheduled court dates for initial charges that included petty crimes to more serious offenses.
The majority of the initial charges where defendants failed to appear in court were drug-related, according to records obtained by Capital News Service through a Maryland Public Information Act request. There were more than 10,900 drug-related charges.
There were nearly 7,500 theft charges among the initial cases.
Other initial charges included littering, selling unpackaged cigarettes, animal cruelty and violation of protective orders.
For Maryland District Court clerks, the process of rescheduling court dates and processing bench warrants for these ‘failure to appear’ cases happens so frequently that it has become just another part of the job.
But in criminal cases, if a defendant does not keep their court date it delays due process and compromises the case, said Judge Robert C. Wilcox, a retired District Court judge, who continues to hear cases twice per week.
“It collapses the system,” said Wilcox. “Time works for them but against the court,” Wilcox said, noting that delaying a case can be used as a defense tactic. “The cases do not get stronger with time.”
Wilcox said there are excusable absences. If a person has documentation of illness or proof that they were not served with notice of the scheduled hearing, the court will take that under consideration.
Opposite of a failure to appear, an attorney can request a postponement of the case where appropriate, and a continuance can be requested when a case starts but circumstances require it to be delayed.
Wilcox said that while postponement requests and continuances also prolong the process, failing to appear hinders the ability for the court to proceed.
“With a postponement, you know when the case is coming back … with a failure to appear, you don’t know when or if they are coming,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said that judges only grant delays if there is a legitimate reason.
“Defendants have the right to a speedy trial,” Wilcox explained.
He also said that failing to appear affects the court employees.
“When it gets put off, it adds to the ever increasing workload,” Wilcox said. “There is more work than workers.”
Angelita Plemmer Williams, a District Court spokeswoman, said that failure to appear affects witness testimony.
“As cases are delayed, witness memories will diminish,” she said.
While the courts were unable to provide the quantifiable costs associated with failing to appear, Williams said it creates a “ripple effect” in terms of time and resources.
When a person fails to appear during a scheduled court date, it prompts additional actions from the court and the sheriff’s office. The judge issues a bench warrant, the clerk processes the warrant and the sheriff’s office serves it.
In addition, Williams said that witnesses often take off work to appear in court, which can result in loss of wages.
The Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of serving subpoenas, arrest warrants and bench warrants in its jurisdiction.
Lt. Jennifer Gilbert-Duran, of the Anne Arundel County Sheriff's Office, said that failure to appear cases make up a large portion of the warrants the deputies serve.
Duran said that when Sheriff Ronald S. Bateman, D-Anne Arundel, took office in December 2006, there were 13,584 open warrants and that at the end of February 2014, the sheriff’s office had 8,978 open warrants.
While many of the failure to appear defendants are picked up on traffic stops, Duran said that the progress is due to department efforts such as conducting sweeps and responding to tips.
Duran said there are three warrant teams and when they receive tips they have to coordinate resources quickly.
“That is challenging because we are only staffed with so many deputies,” Duran said, adding that the department takes a team approach to handling warrants.
“When someone fails to appear in court, sometimes it is because of events beyond their control, but others appear to be evading.” Duran said. She explained that deputies investigate Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration records, employment files, and utilize other methods to track down those who fail to appear.
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Farmland Growing in Bay States
By Karl Blankenship & Whitney Pipkin
The Bay Journal
After decades of decline, one resource in the Bay watershed is making a comeback — farmland.
Figures from the most recent agricultural census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that the Bay watershed gained about 125,000 acres of agricultural land between 2007 and 2012, bringing the total to more than 12.6 million acres of crops, pastures and other farmland.
While that’s small — and within the census’ margin of error — it does signal that the region’s once precipitous rate of farmland loss halted in recent years as the housing market weakened and prices for many crops hit record highs.
“The economics of agriculture in the mid-Atlantic in recent years has been pretty good,” said James Shortle, an agricultural economist at Penn State University. “High prices have been the key thing, and low interest rates have also been good.”
Whether the figures in the most recent census represent a temporary pause in the long-term trend of agricultural land loss or signal a permanent change is anyone’s guess.
“If those markets remain strong, I can see where this type of leveling off is going to continue,” said Mark Dubin of the University of Maryland, who is the coordinator of the Bay Program’s Agriculture Workgroup. “But if they falter, I think there will be a pretty fast reversal, particularly if there is a greater value in some other land use, like development.”
Shortle agreed, adding that “farmland doesn’t compete well with the urban lands unless you have good commodity prices.”
“I think that is going to be a continuing tension in the watershed,” he said.
After years of record highs, prices for crops such as corn have dropped dramatically this year, and there have been some hints of recovery in the housing market.
From a Chesapeake Bay perspective, farmlands provide important habitats for many types of birds and animals. Plus the open land gets a chance to absorb rainfall, unlike developed landscapes where it is quickly shunted into local streams.
At the same time, a farmland increase could make the already daunting task of reducing Bay sediment and nutrient pollution even more difficult. Cropland and areas with large livestock populations generally produce the highest amounts of nutrient-laden runoff to the Bay and its tributaries.
The census shows that harvested cropland in the watershed — generally the most intensively managed fields — increased by about 150,000 acres, to about 5.9 million acres, with the watershed portion in all of the Bay states gaining acreage.
“Other things being equal, intensifying ag land is going to make the Bay problem worse,” Shortle said. “Where it happens specifically is important to assessing what the implications of that would be.”
For instance, he noted, changes near waterways, and the Bay itself, have a greater impact than changes farther upland. But the agricultural census doesn’t provide that level of detail, so weighing the exact impact is difficult.
States in the watershed bucked some of the national trends in the census, a voluminous compilation of survey data compiled every five years, but they tracked closely with the rest of the country on others.
Nationwide, the country experienced a loss of 7.6 million acres of farmland between 2007 and 2012. But the rate of loss is slowing.
“We were noticing a significant increase in the loss of land in farms over the previous censuses. This census, we’ve seen that slowing down nationwide,” said King J. Whetstone II, director of the Northeastern Region of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Virginia ranked fifth in the country among states that saw increased farm acreage over the five-year period, adding nearly 200,000 acres. Most of that acreage was in its southwestern portion, but counties located in the Bay watershed accounted for about 33,500 acres of the gain.
The Bay portions of Maryland and New York were the only state portions that shed farmland between censuses, while Bay watershed portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware added acreage.
The census is used by the state-federal Bay Program to help project county-by-county land use changes across the Chesapeake watershed. Those changes can guide how nutrient applications — and their sources — change over time for a county or watershed.
Historically, those projections have shown a steady loss of farmland throughout the region, and those decreases likely contributed to reduced nutrient runoff over the years, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s when the region suffered substantial farmland losses.
But the new census will likely change future projections, at least for some areas, said Matt Johnston, a nonpoint source data analyst with the University of Maryland stationed at the Bay Program.
Not only do agricultural acres change, but the data also show some shifts in animal populations, including an unexpected increase in cattle, where numbers were previously thought to be decreasing, Johnston said.
Most shifts are subtle and are not likely to result in dramatic changes across the watershed, he said, though some locations could see more substantial impacts after all of the data are analyzed.
“There are winners and losers in all of this,” Johnston said. “It could be really big in some counties, and really small in other counties.”
Overall, the country saw the number of small and beginning farm operators increase by more than 11 percent since 2007. But some of its biggest farms grew even larger as operations consolidated or plowed more land into crops, especially in the Midwest.
Chesapeake Bay states embodied both ends of this spectrum, with counties closer to the metro sometimes adding small farms, while farms in more rural areas sometimes added acreage.
The number of small farms with fewer than 50 acres grew exponentially in the New England states, a trend that is starting to spread to mid-Atlantic states like Virginia.
“There is something going on in terms of the small operations around the metro areas,” said Jim Pease, an agricultural economist at Virginia Tech. “You are getting an increase in farms of fairly small operations, but primarily producing direct consumer products, be that livestock or vegetables.”
Nationally, farms reported an 8 percent increase in their direct-to-consumer sales, like those that occur at farmers markets, between 2007 and 2012.
“When you compare it to the Midwest, you’ve got your corn and soybean and cattle,” Whetstone said. “The diversity of agriculture in the Northeast is maybe superior to any other region, with the exception of probably the West Coast because of California.”
Of the 19 states that gained agricultural lands in the 2012 census, several of them were in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions that also saw an increase at least in part because of the increase in small farms.
Meanwhile, changes in the traditional Farm Belt states continued to drive the biggest trends nationwide. This was the first time the census showed that the combined acreage of corn and soybean topped 50 percent of all harvested acres in the country. Beef cattle made up the largest category of farm operations, with 29 percent of all farms and ranches in the country specializing in cattle in 2012.
While the Chesapeake Bay region is known for its high enrollments of farmers in land conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, other swaths of the country showed much higher enrollment in terms of acreage in the 2012 Census.
A census map showing a blue dot for every 5,000 acres enrolled in Conservation Reserve, Wetlands Reserve, Farmable Wetlands or CREP included densely dotted areas in Washington state, Montana, North Dakota and near the shared borders of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Southern Iowa and northern Missouri also reflected high enrollments, while the Chesapeake Bay region, where some of these programs originated, showed comparatively little.
“It could be because of the size of those farms,” said Jim Baird, mid-Atlantic director for the American Farmland Trust. “You have to (enroll) a lot of farms to get one of those dots in the mid-Atlantic.”
Baird mentioned that many of the regions with high enrollments are home to sprawling ranch or prairie lands in which one farmer holds hundreds of thousands of acres.
“If you selected another measurement, like percentage of streams with buffers or percentage of farmers with CREP, it might even out more,” Baird said.
But the census data shows a decreasing trend in the amount of farmland in land retirement programs such as CREP and its Conservation Reserve Program. Bay watershed farmland enrolled in those programs declined 20 percent from 2007 levels, to about 257,000 acres.
The change could be, in part, a reflection of the first round of expiring 15-year contracts from when CREP was first launched.
These numbers hint at a change that could be a problem for some states. Retiring active cropland is an important source of nutrient reductions in both Pennsylvania’s and Virginia’s watershed implementation plans, which show how jurisdictions intend to meet Bay nutrient and sediment reduction obligations.
A separate analysis for the USDA by Shortle and several colleagues also showed that both Pennsylvania and Virginia needed to retire farmland to meet their Bay nutrient and reduction goals, with Virginia facing the greatest need.
“Virginia by a long ways has a hard time making the WIP goals unless you retire farmland,” Shortle said. “Pennsylvania could meet its nitrogen allocation, but not the phosphorus allocation, though it is just by a little bit.”
Dubin, with the Bay Program’s Agriculture Workgroup, said that no one should count on the retirement of farmland in the future as a way to achieve nutrient reduction goals.
Even if commodity prices remain low, the spikes of recent years mean landowners will likely want to keep land available to bring back into production if prices get high rather than enroll in a land retirement program.
“I don’t see [farmland retirement] increasing, I see that decreasing,” Dubin said. As a result, he said, his agricultural workgroup is trying to identify new management techniques, such as more precisely managing fertilizer applications on field, to help meet nutrient goals.
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