Every year, America loses 1.2 million acres of farmland, much of it our best and most productive farmland near where most Americans live. Nearly 20,000 acres of farmland per year are converted to development in Maryland. Statewide, Maryland is losing farmland at the 3rd highest rate in the country.
of farm, conservation and public health leaders from Maryland's
Frederick and Montgomery counties gathered September 16 to discuss
recommendations for maintaining the
health and economic vitality of the counties’ agriculture industry.
Centered on a report entitled Farming At Metro’s Edge: Securing the Future of Agriculture and Farm
Communities in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, the gathering was designed to formulate ideas
and actions to keep agriculture productive and profitable for the next
generation. “AFT has
been pleased to participate in this 100 percent grassroots effort by citizens
and organizations to bring the community together to talk about the future of
farming so close to the nation’s capital,” explained Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic
director for American Farmland Trust. The report drew from proceedings from the Farming at Metro’s Edge conference last
Representatives from Maryland, Pennsylvania,
Virginia and the District of Columbia just released an abridged version of a
new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement—the fourth since 1983 and newest since
2000—outlining goals to protect and restore the Bay. The voluntary agreement helps
set the course for how states work to meet the regulations for Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This latest version presents an opportunity to
bring farmland protection into the discussion. “The TMDL only deals with water
quality and neglects land conservation,” explains Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic
Director for American Farmland Trust. “It
may even create unintended incentives to build on farmland. We need to be sure
that doesn’t happen.” Baird adds that the agreement could establish more common
ground. For the first time, Governors from all states in the watershed would be
signatories with the addition of New York, West Virginia and Delaware, sending
the message that all states in the watershed can be part of the solution. Give your input
from now until August 15.
O’Malley put out the challenge to all Marylanders to eat something
grown, produced or harvested from a Maryland farm each day during
the week of
July 20 to 28. The request is part of the annual Buy Local
initiative started by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development
with the goal of highlighting the benefits of buying local to the
economy and environment. “The Buy Local Challenge is a great way to
consumers with family farmers throughout Maryland,” says Jim Baird,
Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust. Although started
in Maryland, all states are invited to participate with the hope of
building a unified,
nationwide effort that would demonstrate the need to support local
far more than 5,000 people have signed up. Surely there are more people
participating. Are you?
largest piece of national legislation impacting farm and
food policy, and Congress’ biggest conservation bill, is being debated
right now. The Farm Bill, which the House of Representatives has been
considering this week but ultimately failed to pass, will have huge
implications for efforts in the Mid-Atlantic region and Chesapeake Bay
Watershed to improve water quality, protect farmland and increase the
local, healthy food. As Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), member of the House
Agriculture Committee and Chair of the Conservation Subcommittee,
earlier this spring, “Conservation programs are lifelines for farmers in
home state of Pennsylvania and many other communities across the
region, in meeting cleanup efforts set for the Chesapeake Bay
37 representatives in the House from Bay states—Virginia, Maryland,
Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York—continue to play a critical
need to hear from you. Reach out to your legislators to ensure Congress
includes strong farmland conservation measures and ultimately passes a
comprehensive five-year farm bill.
Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust, has recently been designated
by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley for a three-year term with the state Rural Legacy
Advisory Committee. Maryland’s Rural
Legacy Program provides funding to protect large, contiguous tracts of land,
especially farms and forests, to discourage sprawl development and
protect areas for future generations to enjoy. The committee provides strategic recommendations
to the Rural Legacy Board, which implements the Maryland progam. Rural Legacy complements
the State Agricultural Preservation program, which mainly addresses high
quality agricultural soils, by focusing on farms with strong environmental and
water quality values. The program ultimately provides farmers and landowners an
alternative to developing or subdividing their land to help protect Maryland’s
farmland. Congratulations to Jim on this notable recognition!
Dismay at the lack of funding support for farmland
protection in the final Maryland state budget continues to spread among
farmland and conservation advocates. The combined loss from the Maryland
Agricultural Land Preservation Fund and the Rural Legacy Program totaled $8.7
million. “We’ve gained ground but there’s more ground to be
preserved for working agriculture,” expressed Baltimore County farmer Dan
Colhoun in a recent article in The
Delmarva Farmer. “Developer
interest is not going to go away and the battle will be ongoing for what
farmland remains.” As American Farmland Trust Mid-Atlantic Director
Jim Baird noted in the article, the lack of farmland protection funding could
have a negative impact on efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake
Bay. Baird is currently exploring the relationship between protected farmland
and water quality in Maryland so stay tuned for more information on this topic.
The past three years of work
on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has provided important information to farmers and
agricultural advisors about the relationship between on-farm conservation and
water quality. Starting in 2012, seven Maryland farmers worked with American Farmland
Trust; Agflex, Inc.; and local crop advisor Don Moore to test new fertilizer
practices on a portion of their crop land by participating in the BMP
Challenge. The risk proved rewarding, with an average increased profit of $6
per acre while reducing nitrogen applied by 7 pounds per acre on the test
acres. “Throughout the entire BMP Challenge process, farmers demonstrated their
willingness and eagerness to learn,” explained Moore. “They want to adopt new technologies if
they make good economic sense.” Read more details about these Eastern Shore
January 11 and 12, approximately 250 farmers and stakeholders came together to
develop ideas to sustain environmentally sound and productive agriculture in
the Washington, D.C. region. The Farming at Metro’s Edge conference featured a keynote
address from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, panel
presentations, and roundtable discussions to agree on recommendations to
improve profitability and environmental performance in Frederick and
Montgomery Counties. Successful projects, like the New Farmer Pilot Project and LocaleChesapeake.com's bar code labeling of local
foods, were also highlighted. According to Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust’s Mid-Atlantic
Director, “This very diverse
crowd of farmers, homeowners, environmentalists, and openspace advocates surprised
themselves at the amount of common ground they shared in identifying problems
and offering solutions.” Baird, facilitated the event and
served as a panelist. He was joined by American Farmland Trust's Calfironia Director Ed Thompson who moderated a panel.
All farmers and ranchers know preparing for the year ahead starts with looking back at the bright spots and challenges from the seasons before. At AFT, we’re proud that in 2012 we rallied farmers and citizens alike to advocate on behalf of protecting farm and ranch land. Our innovative projects helped family farmers pioneer sound farming practices, which help to preserve our land and water resources. We also laid the groundwork to keep farmers on the land by providing tools and resources that allow them to thrive.
We’re sharing accomplishments and inspiration from 2012 in the words of our expert staff.
While all the reasons we have identified through the years for why farmland is important are all still true, we also have this heightened concern about water quality. We need to understand what role farmland and farmers play in this realm and we articulate that to people. They need to understand how much agriculture is part of the solution for this issue, too. And so this last year I’ve been working on making the case that farmland is essential for water quality so we can make it part of the policy solution.
Read more from Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird
How is farmland stacking up to development in efforts to
clean the Chesapeake Bay? Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird has been working with
partners in the region to help answer this question and recently presented their findings at the Chesapeake
Bay Watershed Forum. With widespread perceptions of farms as the primary
water quality problem in the Bay area, many think that smart-design housing might
actually be a preferable land use. “Not necessarily,” says Baird. “We have found that,
thanks to growth in conservation practices spurred by the Bay Restoration Plan,
farmland actually puts about 15 percent less nitrogen into the Bay watershed
per acre than developed land.” Move ahead to a 2025 scenario. Should all of the
conservation measures on farms and developed lands be implemented, farmland is
projected to release 28 percent less nitrogen than developed land. Adds Baird,
“These findings are important both to restore Chesapeake Bay health and to maintain the
farms that provide our food and support our local economy.”
Debates on how to clean up the Chesapeake Bay—a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the
all over the news these days. Central to the discussion on the future of the
Bay is how to offset pollution from new growth and development in the
watershed. American Farmland Trust has been seeking solutions that benefit both the environment and farmers by pursuing the creation of trading markets for
clean water “credits.” In Maryland, this trading will come from the Department
of the Environment’s plan, a draft of which, Accounting
For Growth, is up for public input in five meetings across the state over
the next several months. “Cleaning up
the Bay is more than a slogan. It is a serious challenge that will affect
everyone no matter if you are a homeowner, farmer, developer or business owner,”
says Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust's Mid-Atlantic Director. “These meetings are about how to keep the Bay on the road to
recovery even while new growth brings increased pollution.”
What is nutrient trading and why is it important for a healthy future? To help answer these questions, we teamed up with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and talked with farmers and experts about nutrient trading in the state and its possible impact on the Chesapeake Bay. The video will be used as a new tool to assist the state's roll-out of a program that has the potential to bring new revenue sources to farmers and lower the cost of pollution reduction for all citizens of Maryland.
In May 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order for a fresh look at the federal government’s role in Chesapeake Bay cleanup. The EPA and four cabinet-level departments recently released draft reports that estimate meeting water quality goals will require a 44 percent reduction of nitrogen entering the bay. Agriculture is one of the contributors to pollution in the bay, and reducing run-off while ensuring farms stay in business is no easy task. Fortunately there are some tools that that help farmers improve water quality, while allowing them to keep the farm business alive.
AFT received a $650,000 grant to support the Mid Atlantic Clean Water Initiative which will implement the BMP challenge for Reduced Nitrogen in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
AFT launched the Mid Atlantic Clean Water Initiative to help farmers enhance their nutrient management and reduce high nutrient levels that impair local and regional water quality. The new project has started with a $650,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant was part of a $5 million fund specifically for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. By working with producers in the field and at the policy level, AFT hopes to reduce between 200,000 and 270,000 pounds of nitrogen and set the stage to expand the program in each state over three years.
More on the Mid-Atlantic Clean Water Initiative
Focus on Maryland
In Queen Anne County, Maryland, the president and two commissioners have made a proposal to save farmland and focus urban growth with a voluntary transfer of development rights (TDR) program [PDF]. According to Jim Baird, AFT’s Mid Atlantic States Director, “TDRs have proven to be invaluable in protecting important resource lands, while directing new development to areas with existing and adequate infrastructure.” But they are not without their detractors: developers who chafe at the added cost, suburban residents who resist more density in their neighborhood and some farmers who worry that their land will lose value when zoning changes are made. “It’s another tool in the tool kit,” says Baird. Ultimately citizens will decide what they want their community to look like and the best way to achieve that. AFT has provided comments or background information to both efforts.
Eating local and supporting local farms has never been easier thanks to the University of Maryland’s newly released virtual farmers market. This site allows consumers to find a local farm selling everything under the sun from Apples to Watermelons. This easy to navigate guide demonstrates how simple and rewarding it can be to source a delicious diet right in your backyard. Visit FoodTrader.org and start ordering-up local today.
FederAl Farm Policy and The farm bill
What’s in the farm bill and why is it important? Find out what’s next for the farm bill and how we can make sure the legislation's promises are turned into programs on the ground.