Alan Musselman, chief of Maryland's program to preserve farmland for agricultural use, has been fired in what he described as a philosophical dispute with the board of directors of the program.

State agriculture officials say they are committed to the program's goals and fired Musselman for administrative deficiencies and not for policy reasons, according to an Associated Press report from Annapolis.

Musselman, however, said a "philosophical gulf" existed between him and F. Grove Miller, the Cecil County farmer who is chairman of the program's board of directors.

Musselman, who was dismissed March 8, said "Grove has never been supportive of the concept of permanent farmland protection." Miller, on the other hand, said "I don't think the philosophical differences were strong."

Miller said Musselman's dismissal came after Miller was told by Agriculture Department officials that Musselman "just refused to take orders" from his boss, Ernest Shea.

" . . . I and the board don't disagree with the way the program is going," Miller said.

State Sen. James Clark Jr., a Democrat from Howard County, appeared to agree with Musselman's evaluation of the firing. "I guess the truth of the matter is that some of the people on the board aren't exactly enthusiastic about the program," he said.

Under the program, farmers can voluntarily create agricultural preservation districts in their areas by agreeing not to develop their farmland for at least five years.

Farmers can then sell the state easements to prohibit conversion of their land to other than agricultural uses.