Variety Development – Terrapin Edition

June 29, 2022 in Crops

Variety Development – Terrapin Edition

Crab Cakes and Football…but That’s Not All

“Crab cakes and football! That’s what Maryland does!” But that’s not all it does, as we’re going to learn in today’s post on the Old Line State as we continue on our nationwide tour of land grant universities. True, the U.S. gets half of its total blue crabs from Maryland waters (look for the True Blue label), according to the Maryland State Archives, and that value in 2020 was $33.2 million. However, the more familiar crops of corn ($443 million in 2021), soybeans ($311M), wheat ($82.2M), and even hay ($67M) exceed the average annual blue crab harvest value which has been declining in recent years.

The assumption isn’t altogether misplaced, however. If you are not familiar with Maryland, you can be forgiven for thinking that seafood and sailing are the only things it does. As in the case of comedy classic “Wedding Crashers,” most movies set in Maryland tend to have a nautical theme instead of an agricultural one. After all, while only 42nd out of the 50 states in terms of land area (12,406 square miles), Maryland ranks 18th in water area with about 2,700 square miles. It is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. And according to a 2003 analysis by the Maryland Geological Survey, it has 7,719 miles of shoreline thanks in large part to the Chesapeake Bay which is the third-largest estuary in the world and the largest in the United States according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. For what it is worth, Maryland is a great example of what’s called the “coastline paradox,” which is really just a theoretical mathematics problem. This entertaining video does a great job of explaining it.

The Delmarva Peninsula includes Delaware and parts of Virginia and Maryland.
Graphic courtesy of Delmarva Grown.

Nevertheless, Maryland plays a critical role in our nation’s agricultural supply chain due to its proximity to highly populated metro areas like Washington, D.C. (6.4 million) and Philadelphia (6.2 million), not to mention its own city of Baltimore (2.8 million). Together with Delaware and Virginia, it forms the Delmarva Peninsula, which is home to a substantial agricultural network in addition to its ubiquitous shoreline. Row crops grown on the Delmarva Peninsula frequently are used for chicken feed at nearby chicken farms. In 2021, the Delmarva Chicken Association reported that their growers produced 4.2 billion pounds of chicken, or about 7 percent of the total U.S. chicken production, per USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

“The Old Line” nickname was given during the Revolutionary War, when 400 soldiers in the First Maryland Regiment fought a British force of 10,000 and helped General George Washington’s army to escape. Washington depended on the Maryland Line throughout the war, and the soldiers’ discipline and bravery earned Maryland its nickname. 

As one of the original 13 colonies, Maryland’s history goes back about as far as it can in the context of the United States. It was the seventh state to ratify the Constitution when it did so on April 28,1788. The state is home to two land-grant universities: the University of Maryland College Park (UMD) that was created in 1856, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), an 1890 institution that dates back to 1886. The Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture (PSLA) within UMD’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources (AGNR) is home to Maryland’s variety testing activities for corn, wheat, soybeans, barley and some forage crops. The university collaborates with the Maryland Grain Producers Association on corn, wheat, and barley research and with the Maryland Soybean Board for soybean research. 

Preservation Maryland’s Rich and Colorful History of UMD’s Beloved Mascot, Testudo, the Maryland Diamond Terrapin

Maryland’s AGNR is also home to the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) system that includes five research and extension stations throughout the state. Four of the five research centers host variety testing activities:

Central Maryland Research & Education Center

  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat (two locations)

Lower Eastern Shore Research & Education Center

  • Corn (two locations)
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

Wye Research & Extension Center

  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

With 12,400 farming operations in the state, traditional row crops are just the tip of the iceberg. We could go on ad nauseam about the offerings of the state, which can be found in Maryland’s unique on-line state manual (just follow the link and click “Agriculture”), but we’ll highlight just a few in case you’re still skeptical of Maryland’s robust agricultural scene.

  • If you are a locavore, you’ll find this harvest calendar very helpful to identify when and where you can find your favorite fruits and vegetables.
  • Love farm shows and county fairs? Be sure to check out this helpful list. Also, make sure you plan for the State Fair in late August/early September!
  • Are you an aspiring sommelier or Cicerone? Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of spirits? Then check out this helpful directory.
  • Lastly, if you just love good ice cream, well, you’re in luck! Because Maryland offers the Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail, complete with passport.

So the next time someone tells you that crab cakes and football is what Maryland is all about, you can share with confidence your newfound knowledge of the Old Line State’s burgeoning agricultural scene.

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