Summer is always a busy time for Maryland farmers, but I wanted to take a moment to give you an update on a few things happening here at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Cover Crop Program
The signup period for the department’s 2017-18 Cover Crop Program will run from June 21 to July 17 at soil conservation district offices statewide. This popular program provides grants to help farmers offset seed, labor, and equipment costs to plant cover crops on their fields this fall.
Gov. Larry Hogan has allocated approximately $22.5 million for this year’s program.
There are several important changes to this year’s cover crop program. As a cost-saving measure, farmers who choose to harvest their cover crops will no longer receive payment through this program. Farmers may enroll all eligible acres and decide later what acres will be harvested. Also, legume mixes now qualify for early planting incentives; cover crop mixes containing up to three species — small grains, legumes, forage radish — are now eligible for grants; and the aerial seed planting deadline has been extended to Oct. 7.
Maryland farmers are leaders when it comes to protecting water quality and caring for our precious soil resources. Adding cover crops into a cash crop rotation makes good sense for our farmland and our waterways. I urge all farmers to visit their soil conservation districts to sign up for cover crop grants during the enrollment window. This will be your only opportunity to apply for grants to plant cover crops this fall.
Ice Cream Trail
The Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail season officially started May 26. The trail is made up of nine Maryland dairies that produce and sell their ice cream directly to consumers. The trail stretches more than 290 miles from Ocean City in the east to Washington County in the west. The purpose of the trail is to highlight the important contributions of Maryland’s 414 dairy farms, which accounted for $164 million in sales in 2016, and to increase the public’s general understanding of dairy farming.
Since June is National Dairy Month, Deputy Ag Secretary Jim Eichhorst and I started our journey through the trail at Rocky Point Creamery in Tuscarora and Woodbourne Creamery in Mount Airy on June 13. Our goal is to hit all nine creameries before the season ends on Sept. 25.
GICA — Defining Agritourism
Earlier this month, the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission for Agriculture, or GICA, held its first meeting of 2017.
The meeting included a presentation from Grow & Fortify detailing how counties and the state can help promote value-added agriculture and agritourism. There was also a presentation from Brian Geraci, state fire marshal, on inspection guidelines for on-farm venues.
Kirk Engle of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene gave a presentation on his department’s work with dairy farmers to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal laws.
Lastly, Charlotte Davis of the Rural Maryland Council talked about grants available through the council.
The commission also voted to adopt an official definition for agritourism as: “a series of activities conducted on a farm and offered to the public or to invited groups for the purpose of education, recreation or active involvement in the farm operation. These activities may include, but are not limited to, farm tours, hayrides, corn mazes, seasonal petting farms, farm museums, guest farms, pumpkin patches, pick-your-own or cut-your-own produce, classes related to agricultural products or skills, and picnic and party facilities offered in conjunction with the above.”
Copies of the presentations and meeting minutes will be available on the GICA website.
As we move into July, I want to remind all Marylanders of the many different ways to buy local products throughout the state. Farmers market season is in full-swing and there are a variety of you-pick operations offering fresh produce.
Another way to support local producers is to buy fresh Maryland seafood. Maryland is home to some of the best seafood in the world: blue crabs, rockfish, oysters and more. The relationship between farmers and watermen goes back to the beginning of our state’s history, and summer is the perfect time to enjoy all of the fresh, local products available statewide.
2017 Census of Agriculture
I want to close out this month’s column by encouraging all Maryland farmers to participate in the upcoming Census of Agriculture.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) compiles this report once every five years, giving us the most credible agricultural data available.
The information obtained by the Census of Agriculture will help inform everyone from farmers to lawmakers and will surely have an impact on the agriculture industry in our state. I urge all Maryland farmers to participate in the surveys so we can make sure that everyone is working with the most accurate data possible.
Editor’s Note: Joseph Bartenfelder is Maryland’s secretary of agriculture.