Accounting for 40 percent of Maryland’s land, the state’s agricultural industry – including food and fiber production, as well as its racing and pleasure equine industries – contributes more than $17 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc., a non-profit entity that strives to “promote the understanding and appreciation of the importance of agriculture” in the daily lives of Marylanders.
As to be expected, an industry of such vast proportions yields a bumper crop of attendant legal needs ranging from land and water use to protection of intellectual property. Hence, meeting those particular legal needs is the motivation behind MSBA President Michael J. Baxter’s creation of a new MSBA Special Committee on Agriculture Law.
“Agriculture is a significant industry in Maryland, and a growing one,” says Baxter. “As it has developed, it has become more complicated and, by necessity, more regulated.” The new Committee, he notes, will be comprised of knowledgeable attorneys “who want to keep their clients – from small family farms to agri-business – and the Maryland Bar at the cutting edge in this emerging area of law.”
Kimberly A. Manuelides, a partner in the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing LLP, along with Kathleen Tabor, an Elkridge-based solo practitioner, co-chairs the Agriculture Law Steering Committee, which held its first meeting on November 15 at the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Annapolis. The more than 60 attorneys comprising the Steering Committee’s current (albeit informal) roster, according to Manuelides, represent “diverse geography, firm sizes, and practice areas.”
Manuelides, a litigator, calls the agricultural industry’s needs “underserved,” especially in an “increasingly complex legal landscape” that is not necessarily covered in all aspects by substantive fields such as environmental or animal law, but rather delves deeper into applied substantive areas like estate planning, labor, and intellectual property.
“All aspects of law are relevant to agriculture,” says Tabor, who grew up in a farming family in rural Michigan. “My particular focus of legal practice has always [leaned] toward agriculture and equine activities since graduating law school. I want to try to give back the best way I can.”
“The industry and those involved – producers particularly, but also manufacturers and retailers – need competent legal representation and advice from attorneys familiar with their particular aspect of agriculture,” she continues. “The legal community should be advocates for the agriculture community.”
However, agricultural law does not solely apply to the “more rural parts of the state,” such as the Eastern Shore, or Western and Southern Maryland, notes Manuelides. “You’d be surprised – a lot goes on in the city,” she says, citing as an example the growing number of “urban farms” cultivated for such purposes as growing vegetables for city residents.
The new Committee, in fulfilling its proposed mission “to serve the interests of the agricultural and legal community in Maryland,” will also strive to:
- Serve as a resource and supportive assembly of legal professionals to those involved in agricultural affairs;
- Improve the knowledge and professional abilities of those legal professionals through CLE and industry-based educational programs, as well as publications and networking;
- Engage in the practice of law as it relates to agricultural matters;
- Review and research applicable laws and proposed legislation that may impact the industry as a whole;
- Monitor relevant developments in other substantive areas of the law as they pertain to agriculture, agribusiness, and aquaculture in Maryland and disseminate information on those developments; and
- Generally assist in the improvement of the practice of agricultural law.
Tabor and Manuelides maintain that “there is enthusiastic support within the industry” at present for such a Committee, noting that other state bars – including Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania – have already established similar committees or sections to address these needs in their respective jurisdictions, while law schools are establishing programs designed to specifically cater to this area. Indeed, with such a strong start, Tabor and Manuelides hope that the new Committee might soon become a Section.
MSBA’s newest Section, Construction Law, was formally established by majority vote of MSBA’s membership in June 2011, less than two years after the appointment of its predecessor, the Special Committee on Construction Law, in late 2009.
“I am really excited that MSBA has agreed to focus on the agriculture community as a whole and grateful to the many legal professionals who have come forward to be a part of this new group,” says Tabor. “The Agriculture Law Committee has the opportunity to bring together members of the legal and agriculture communities to educate, advocate, and assist one another. I feel very privileged to be a part of this.”