Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Clear Sign: The End is Near

The Boniface family, owners of Bonita Farm in Darlington, have all but thrown in the towel on the horse industry in Maryland. Bonita Farm boasts the finest facilities around: a 5/8 mile dirt track, 1/2 mile turf course, nine paddocks, and an indoor track, as well as a 30-foot wide turf course around the entire farm. This sounds like it would be a thriving operation, right? Not anymore!

J. William Boniface, the farm's general manager, has planted 2,800 merlot grapevines over the past few weeks. The grapes will take around four years to grow. The plan is for the family to distribute the grapes to Maryland wineries, which could result in $20,000 to $30,000 a year, said William's son, Billy, a partner in the farm.

"We're horsemen," Billy Boniface said. "Anything to stay in business and use the land."

The Bonifaces' move comes at a time when Maryland's horse industry is facing stiff competition from emerging industries in neighboring Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Those states have slot-machine gambling that help fund their horse racing industries -- a strategy many Maryland horse industry insiders say could help this state's sagging business.

As the amount of mares that board annually at the farm continues to slide, Billy Boniface said the family has began to plan for the future and find other ways to use their nearly 400-acre Harford County farm in case the horsing business doesn't pick up soon in the state.

The Bonifaces also planted 1,400 Christmas trees, which will take up to six years to produce.

"Rather than selling and moving out of the state, [horse breeders] are looking to add something," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. The Bonifaces "are dedicated to this industry, and I think it's painful for them to see this happening."

Billy Boniface said that a new fencing project on the farm for its horse boarding business may result in cows being housed on-site in the future.

"I'd much rather have that barn full of six stallions breeding mares and having the mares coming in here," he said. "But they're not coming. I still got to stay in business and keep the farm mortgage paid." Baltimore Biz Journal


libby said...

That is sad. Why are no mares coming in to breed? There has to be more to this than what I am reading.

Baloo said...


The Maryland horse industry is dying. Maryland can not compete with the slot enhanced purses in neighboring, and our facilities are in bad shape (Pimlico and Laurel Park). Being a Maryland bred, Maryland Million eligible horse no longer has value. The Pennsylvania bred program is much better than the Maryland program. A number of breeding farms have closed, and a whole lot of trainers have moved operations to Pennsylvania and delaware.

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