As we go to press with the January issue, a legislative initiative known as the feed fund is being prepped to be introduced as a bill in the 2002 Maryland Legislative Session.

It is expected that the bill will look very similar to last year’s bill (see sidebar). Because there was a lot of confusion about the bill last year, we provide the following information so that you, our readers can have greater clarity and understanding as to the purpose and function of this bill. After carefully reviewing the information, we invite our readers to vote their position on the issue. We will publish the results of those votes in the March issue.

What is the purpose of this legislation?
To provide working funds for the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

Who are they?
See Maryland Horse Industry Board website.

Why do they need money?
Because the law that created them gave them the legislative objective of supporting the Maryland horse industry through promotion, research, and education, and in order to do that, they need funding.

Why can’t they just get monies out of the general fund?
Because it is not fair. Legislators do not want to allocate funds to support just one special interest group. If they do that for horse people, then they will have to do it for skiers, sky divers and sailors, race car drivers and dirt bikers, skateboarders and skeet shooters. Do you want monies from the general funds going to support deer hunters, or do you want deer hunters to support themselves? Same is true for us. If we want more equine research at the University of Maryland, if we want more grant monies for preserving trails, we have got to find a way to fund it ourselves, in a way that is fair to all horse people so no one person is shouldering the burden more than another.

Why feed?
Because feed is the only common point of convergence in the horse industry.

All horses have to eat, the the vast majority consume some sort of processed feed. And using horse feed as the funding source is the easiest way to spread it out across the industry so that no one group of horse owners is overly burdened.

This is the only product we all buy that is already being accounted for through some sort of official public monitoring process. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has two departments that interact with the mills, the Office of Weights and Measures, which monitors the accuracy of the scales (making sure your 50lb bag of horse feed is actually 50 lbs.) and the office that monitors the chemistry and labeling process (which makes sure that the feed contains what the label says it does). Thus, the relationships are already in place for capturing those funds.

We read earlier in The Equiery that they were considering adding a similar assessment on Coggins test? Why aren?t they using that? Or, are we gonna get hit twice?

Did you know that less than 1/3 of all horses get Coggins tests pulled? Not all horses in Maryland are required to get a Coggins test – only horses that are moved into or out of public spaces, such as sales or horse shows. If your horses never leave your farm, they don?t need a Coggins test. To assess an added fee on Coggins would mean that the minority of horses are supporting programs to benefit the majority of horses, so MHIB decided that that was not a fair to all horse people.

The second reason is that there is no practical mechanism through which to capture those funds. Unlike feed, which gets weighed on scales that MDA inspects, only some Coggins tests go to the State lab, which could capture the funds. However, the majority of tests are performed by private labs – and private, out of state labs at that.

So, assessing the Coggins test is not fair to all horsemen, and it is not practical.

Why not just raise donations?
O.k., now just about everyone of you is probably already working with some non-profit group and doing some kind of fundraising. If you would like to help the MHIB raise the $500,000 needed annually to accomplish its mission – the mission you, the industry, has been saying you want “someone” to do, if you want to help MHIB raise that money annually, by all means, MHIB would love you to sign up. But in the meantime, these programs will benefit all horse owners, and will help to ensure that horses stay a vital and active part of Maryland culture. So shouldn’t EVERYONE help fund this?

There is a saying that the Maryland horse industry is a mile wide and an inch deep-meaning, we have lots and lots of people involved in horses, but not a lot of deep pockets. This bill will even out the playing field, making it possible for every horse person to contribute. The more horses you have, the more you contribute; the fewer horses you have, the less you contribute.

So how would this work?
The Maryland Department of Agriculture would collect $2 on each TON of commercial feed sold in Maryland. This would take place at the wholesale/manufacturing level, the mill level where the feed is processed and weighed, not at the retail level. The feed manufacturer would be responsible, not the mom & pop feed shop.

What does that mean to me?
This nets out to about .05? per bag. Based on academic statistics of the average amount of feed the average horse consumes annually, this would be about $3 per year per horse.

My bottom line concern: will that affect the price I pay for feed? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends upon whether or not the feed company decides to pass along the cost to the consumer.

What if I don’t want to contribute based on principle? What if I think this is unfair? Or what if I have a hundred head and the additional $300 annual will be burdensome, or I don’t want to pass that cost onto my boarders?

This is not a tax. This is not mandatory. If you want your money back, you can get it back. You will simply submit your feed receipts and request a refund from the Maryland Horse Industry Board. That will just mean that much less will be available for grants, scholarships, etc.

Well, couldn?t the feed company just use this as an excuse to jack up the cost of my feed even further, to cover their administrative costs? Well, yes, they theoretically could do that, but they could also do that for a number of other reasons as well, such as fuel costs, drought causing the price of grains to go up, whatever.

However, if the feed manufacturers were to ?jack up their prices? above and beyond the .05? and blame it on the Horse Industry Fund, that would make a very poor business decision on their part and be bad public relations. The feed company that proudly proclaims that they are ?proud supporters of the Maryland Horse Industry Board? will win more consumer good will than the feed manufacturer that becomes punitive.

Customers would flock to the feed company that didn?t jack up their rates, so the company that did would lose business based on price alone.

Why should we pay just to support a bunch of bureaucrats?
There are 12 Maryland horse men and women serving on the Maryland Horse Industry Board. They meet at least 12 times a year. Not one of them receives a dime from the government to do this.

The only paid employees by the Maryland Horse Industry Board are the State Stable Inspectors, those wonderful folks who inspect public stables to be sure that horses are receiving at least a minimal amount of care, and are not being abused and neglected.

This is meant to help the horse industry? – those people making a living from horses. Why should those of us who have horses just because we love them pay to help them make more money.

O.k., perhaps industry is a inaccurate term in that respect, and it should be horse community.?

First of all, people who own horses just because do benefit when the equine business community thrives….a thriving community means plentiful options for boarding, plenty of options for quality and price on products and services. Because we have such a large and thriving industry, Marylanders enjoy relatively inexpensive farrier services. In other parts of the country, where farriers may have to drive hours between clients, horse owners are paying two and three times what we are paying for shoeing.

But these monies will do more than just help grow the horse industry. These monies will help fund medical research, which may one day yield a vaccination for EPM, or Lymes.

These monies will help fund youth programs, welfare programs, trail programs and more. In fact, MHIB is already doing these things. See the sidebar for the list of organizations that received grants in 2001.

Hey – wait a minute – if they are already doing this, then why do we need this feed fund?
Because the Maryland Horse Industry Board is a relatively new organization, they have been receiving a small amount of temporary or emergency funding doled through the Governor?s office, with the understanding that the Board must find its own funding mechanism. The funding has been a negligible, but the Board immediately starting distributing grants in order to prove to the equestrian community their intentions.

With all their high priced lobbyists, how do we know the racing people won?t just take all the money?
There are 12 horse people on the Board, only 2 of which represent racing. As proof, we again refer to the list of 2001 grant recipients.

But, if it makes you feel any better, race horses consume more feed than the average horse, so they will actually be putting more money, proportionally speaking, into the fund than the average pleasure horse owner.

So, how much money could this raise?
Using current estimates of the equine population in Maryland, this could raise at least $250,000 – $300,000 per year, but it could be much higher.

What is this part about any monies not used within a year will revert back to the general fund! Is this true?
Do you really think those 12 horse people serving on that Board are going to let those funds disappear? As long as the monies are scheduled to be used, they can not revert.

Can’t we just take that out of the bill altogether?
Unfortunately, no. It is Maryland law and code, courtesy of former Governor Schaeffer, and it affects every fund in every industry across the board.

So, what do I do now?
Decide if you believe this funding mechanism to be a fair and equitable way to raise funds for beneficial projects for horses and the horse community. Fill out and sign the ballot on the next page, and then fax or mail your ballot to The Equiery.