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Lisa Garfield gathers soil for a benchmark soil health survey as part of the Million Acre Challenge.

A new challenge hopes to improve the soil on 1 million acres of Maryland farmland by 2030.

The Million Acre Challenge will provide farmers together with resources to build organic matter, reduce compaction and create healthy soil biological communities.

Amanda Cather, project director of the program, said that healthy soils allow rain to infiltrate, retain moisture and produce more consistent yields than poor soils. She hopes the program will improve soil resilience, farm profitability and the environment.

Cather’s initial effort has been to listen to farmers to learn what their concerns are and how they can help in efforts to improve Maryland’s already productive farmland.

“We’re here to listen, we’re here to help, and we’re here to learn from you,” Cather said. “We want to hear all your ideas.”

The hope is that farmers can share ideas and the program can connect them with resources and information.

Cather, who raises sheep and poultry on a small farm, is looking to promote cover crops and reduced or no-till, among other practices.

“It is a legacy, something you can leave to the next generation. It’s a triple bottom-line win, which is really rare,” she said. “I’ve heard people say that it makes farming fun again.”

The program is voluntary, and there are no penalties if farmers decide the program isn’t working for them.

The group’s founding partners include Future Harvest CASA, Fair Farms Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Its website is millionacrechallenge.org

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