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Bald eagles find a perch in a Chesapeake Bay marsh. (Bay Journal photo by Dave Harp)

The Maryland State Legislature voted earlier this year to modify the Agricultural Cost-Share Program, effective July 1, by increasing the allowable amount of state funding available for certain projects from 87.5% to 100%.

The cost-share program is one of several initiatives established to improve water quality and achieve state water quality goals. The recent changes are expected to help Maryland satisfy Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals while providing a meaningful benefit to farm businesses.

Since 1982, Maryland has administered the MACS program to reduce the effects of nonpoint-source pollution on water quality by providing financial assistance for the implementation of agricultural best management practices.

Grass waterways, streamside buffers and animal waste storage systems are among more than 30 BMPs eligible for funding under the program.

Some conservation practices result in a reduced crop production area and increased maintenance responsibilities; therefore, cost-share funding is crucial to incentivize farmers to implement the practices.

The program is currently managed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and administered by local soil conservation districts.

MACS provides farmers with reimbursement funds to cover the cost of implementing BMPs that reduce soil and nutrient runoff from farmland.

The total amount of cost-sharing a farmer can receive is still limited to $50,000 per project and $150,000 per farm for most BMPs. A higher cap — $200,000 per project and $300,000 per farm — applies to manure treatment and containment projects.

Farmers Taking Steps to Meet 2025 Goal

The program is credited as one of the reasons Maryland’s agricultural sector met its reduction goals for both phosphorus and sediment by the 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup midpoint assessment.

Maryland, along with the five other bay states and the District of Columbia, has committed to achieve Chesapeake Bay water quality clean-up goals by 2025. The continued implementation of agricultural conservation practices is a critical component of reaching those goals.

The agriculture sector has already reduced its nitrogen discharges by 1.6 million pounds between 2010 and 2018.

Between now and 2025, Maryland plans to reduce nitrogen from agriculture by almost 5 million pounds, and according to the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, the nitrogen reduction in the agricultural sector will be achieved in large part through high rates of BMP implementation.

According to the Ag Department, the BMPs that will be eligible for the 100% cost-share reimbursement will be those with at least a 10-year life span that address nutrient loss associated with crop production, which represents approximately 80% of the nitrogen load from the agricultural sector in Maryland.

Examples of eligible practices include grass waterways, saturated buffers and wetland restorations. To receive the 100% cost-share reimbursement, a farm must have a current conservation plan. The increased MACS cost-share allotment will automatically terminate on June 30, 2026, unless it is legislatively extended.

More information can be found online at bit.ly/MACSProgram

For information and resources about implementing BMPs on leased farmland, go to go.umd.edu/conservationleasing

This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney and should not be viewed as legal advice.

Sarah Everhart is a senior legal specialist for the Agriculture Law Education Initiative at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

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