For my fellow farmers who live and work off of the land, every day is Earth Day.
Given our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, water quality and resource conservation are always front and center for farmers across the watershed.
In celebration of Earth Day, I had the pleasure of hosting a virtual meeting with my counterparts from the bay states and federal partners from the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss our shared priorities as we work toward our Watershed Implementation Plan Phase III goals.
This kind of collaboration is key to meeting the challenges facing our industry and the environment, which is why I am proud to announce that the Maryland Department of Agriculture has become the first state agency to endorse the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action Decade of Ag Vision.
This is the first sector-wide movement to align a shared vision for the next decade centered on investing in the next generation of agricultural systems, restoring our environment, regenerating natural resources and, in doing so, strengthening the social and economic fabric of America.
Maryland has long been committed to these principles, leading the nation in sustainable agriculture practices, including cover crops, no-till farming and soil health initiatives.
Our department provides financial and technical assistance to farmers in installing best management practices designed to prevent soil erosion, manage nutrients and improve water quality in local waterways.
The following programs have been working to help the state meet its WIP Phase III goals to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay by 2025:
Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program
This program provides cost-share grants for farmers to install various conservation practices.
In fiscal year 2020, MACS provided Maryland farmers with $32.8 million in cost-share grants. This investment contributed to the installation of 375 conservation practices on farms, nearly half a million acres of protective cover crops planted in fields, and more than 300,000 tons of manure hauled away from areas with high soil phosphorus levels.
All together, the MACS programs will prevent an estimated 3.5 million pounds of nitrogen, 24,500 pounds of phosphorus, and 13,150 tons of soil from entering the Chesapeake Bay.
Nutrient Management Program
This program ensures that farmers and urban land managers apply fertilizers, animal manure and other nutrient sources in an effective and environmentally sound manner.
Maryland was one of the first states to require farmers to follow a nutrient management plan.
The Ag Department is currently working with the University of Maryland on a comprehensive study of phosphorus loss risk tools, which will provide the most complete, current science available on soil phosphorus.
Healthy Soils Program
This program launched in 2019 to explore the co-benefits of soil health for farmers and the environment.
The program established and continues to promote best practices that contribute to the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, which calls for a 40% reduction of emissions levels by 2030.
Maryland is actually witnessing reduction around 49%.
Conservation Buffer Initiative
This is a pilot program that provides a new funding option for farmers who want to plant streamside buffers to improve the health of local waterways. In addition, these buffers provide wildlife habitat and sequester carbon.
Animal Waste Technology Fund
This fund provides grants to companies that demonstrate new technologies that provide alternative strategies to managing animal wastes.
Over the next decade the Maryland Department of Agriculture has pledged to continue working with the USFRA and other leaders from across the agriculture value chain to accelerate bold action and realize our shared Decade of Ag Vision.
I look forward to working with all of our partners to continue making progress in enhancing, protecting, and restoring our natural resources. While agriculture is often identified as part of the problem, Maryland farmers have proved that we are an important part of the solution.
For more information the Decade of Ag Vision, visit usfarmersandranchers.org