FAIR HILL — Maryland’s new secretary of the Department of Agriculture was liking what he saw Tuesday at the Cecil County Fair during his first visit to the county.

“The agriculture accent at this fair is what fairs are all about,” said Joe Bartenfelder, observing other fairs should take note. “The Maryland State Fair has gotten too commercial. We need to educate our urban neighbors what agriculture is all about, our legacy and our heritage.”

Bartenfelder was nominated by Gov. Larry Hogan to lead the state’s Department of Agriculture after former Secretary Buddy Hance resigned following Hogan’s election.

He was one of several officials to speak at the Ag Day seminar at the county fair. Since he also operates three farms in Caroline and Dorchester counties — including a poultry operation — the issues he discussed are personal.

“We’re bracing this fall for what could be a catastrophic event,” he said, referring to avian influenza, which has already resulted in the destruction of 31 million birds in Iowa alone. “It’s a matter of when, not if it comes.”

Earlier this month, state officials announced a poultry exhibit ban at state and county fairs held after Aug. 25. The ban will affect the Maryland State Fair, which begins Aug. 28 in Baltimore County, and at least seven other county or local fairs.

Bartenfelder, who also served as a state delegate and Baltimore County Councilman, said steps being taken now should reduce the risk.

“Bio-security is the only protection right now and education is the key,” he said, adding that when there is an occurrence it’s isolated.

Meanwhile, he welcomed what he sees as widespread support for the farm community from Gov. Larry Hogan, noting that the governor’s first action after being inaugurated was to kill a law that would have prohibited the use of chicken manure as fertilizer on the Eastern Shore.

It’s a point that Valerie Connelly, executive director of the Maryland Farm Bureau, also discussed.

“The EPA is now circling around and saying (water pollution) is a nitrogen issue when for years it was a phosphorous issue,” she said. “But we’re still in the crosshairs and it’s still an issue for us.”

Connelly said the time has come to draft a “constitutional right to farm.”

Trudy Wastreet, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau, also put the farmers on alert for the “WOTUS Rule.”

“It’s an EPA rule that gives them jurisdiction over navigable waters,” Wastweet said.

The Water of the United States rule could also be interpreted to put the EPA in charge of smaller bodies of water, including runoff streams, or areas that no longer have water all in the name of water quality protection.

“It usurps states’ rights and gives the EPA too much authority under the Clean Water Act,” she said.

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