Published January 2021 in UMB President’s Newsletter

When reports of milk dumping began to emerge during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, first-generation dairy farmer Katie Dotter-Pyle, who co-owns Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Union Bridge, Md., put her social media skills to work by creating a popular video designed to educate consumers about the intricate supply chain side of dairy farming.

The creator of the hashtag #AskFarmersNotGoogle wanted consumers to understand the supply chain side of dairy farming and why customers couldn’t just show up at her farm with a milk jug.

Dotter-Pyle was a panelist during the first session of the sixth annual University of Maryland Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference, hosted by the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI). The conference attracts agricultural professionals, lawyers, educators, environmentalists, farmers, policymakers, and students to discuss the complex intersection of environmental regulation and agriculture in Maryland.

ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) that leverages the complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s economy and advance interdisciplinary research.

This year, because of COVID-19 restrictions, the conference was held online over three weeks, allowing attendees to tune in from as close as Philadelphia to as far away as the Philippines.

Sarah Everhart, JD, senior ALEI legal specialist, UMB’s Francis King Carey School of Law, says there was never a question about whether the conference would take place. “At ALEI, our job is to support Maryland’s farmers by providing legal education,” she said. “As long as they are working, we are working.”

Dotter-Pyle joined Brooks Long, co-owner of Deliteful Dairy in Washington County; Lindsay Reames, MPA, director of sustainability and external relations for the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association; and Nicole Cook, JD, MS, environmental and agricultural faculty legal specialist, ALEI, for “Pivoting in a Pandemic: Risk Management During COVID-19 from the Perspective of Maryland’s Dairy Farms.”

The panel focused on the impact of the pandemic on Maryland’s dairy industry and how dairy farmers are traversing a new landscape that includes navigating supply chain disruptions, changing markets, worker issues, insurance, and disaster relief programs.

The Nov. 2 session also included the contentious topic of monitoring the air quality surrounding Delmarva’s poultry farms. The air emissions from poultry-growing operations that consist of ammonia and particulate matter have been linked to a wide range of health issues including pneumonia and asthma. Holly Porter, executive director, Delmarva Chicken Association, and Samantha Campbell, president, Campbell Foundation, discussed the status of their joint project to monitor air emissions from poultry houses, the lessons learned from recent monitoring results, and the potential next steps for the project.

The last two weeks of the online sessions highlighted regional water quality concerns and the local and federal legal frameworks for water quality improvements. The conference concluded with a roundup of this year’s hot topics in agricultural and environmental law and developing issues to watch in 2021, hosted by ALEI’s Paul Goeringer, JD, MS, senior faculty specialist and extension legal specialist, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UMCP.

Despite the challenges of 2020, ALEI remains dedicated to serving Maryland’s agricultural community. “I hope 2021 brings about some much-needed positive news,” Everhart said, “but even if it doesn’t, Maryland’s farmers will be working, and we are committed to hosting our annual Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference” in 2021.

— Laura Lee