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.
Taking a Risk on the Farm Proves Economically Rewarding, Environmentally Beneficial in Marylandand
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
Farmers Gather to Discuss Future of Farming
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.
Preserving Clean Water and Viable Farms
in the Mid-Atlantic
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
Findings for the Future of Farms at the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum
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.”
The Maryland General Assembly is making budget decisions now that will directly impact farms and farmers in Maryland. Currently, the state Senate is debating whether to back Governor O’Malley’s proposal to fully fund farmland protection programs or to support a counter proposal from the Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services that would divert these much-needed funds. The Senate budget committee recently voted to shift Program Open Space funds, slashing 75 percent of farmland protection funding. As Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust, explains, “Farmland protection dollars are at an all-time low. We must do all we can to keep what funding we have or we risk losing it for good.” As an executive committee member of the Partners for Open Space coalition, American Farmland Trust has joined in rallying dozens of organizations to ask Maryland lawmakers to make farmland protection a priority. As cuts in the Senate are likely, the battle will move to the house next week. Stay tuned for opportunities to help defend farmland protection funding in Maryland.
Great news for farmland protection in Maryland! Governor Martin O’Malley recently proposed full funding for Program Open Space and related farmland conservation programs in his 2012 budget. Dozens of supporters of Maryland farms and farmland have already passed along their gratitude. Though we expect conservation funds to be under fire soon in the state legislature, please join us in thanking Governor O’Malley for keeping farmland protection a priority.
Looking to protect your farmland or safeguard, restore and enhance wetlands on your farm property? USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Maryland has set February 10 as the deadline for applications in the first round of funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and Wetland Reserve Program. All landowners are encouraged to get their applications in soon to ensure funding availability.
The rich agricultural diversity of the Mid-Atlantic offers an annual opportunity to celebrate the remarkable gifts of the land. Even in a year full of challenges that threatened its bounty—including inclement weather and state budgets concerns—work to protect farmland and safeguard clean water sources has stretched from the steps of the capitol in Annapolis to farm fields from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
We are proud of the work of American Farmland Trust and our partners in the Mid-Atlantic. Read more about our work across the region.
A new grant program seeking to protect native trout in the Chesapeake Bay may have positive implications for farmland protection in the region. Trout Unlimited recently announced its inaugural round of applications for the Chesapeake Bay Coldwater Land Conservancy Fund. Funding will support landowners, land trusts and conservation organizations in their efforts to acquire conservation easements that benefit brook trout habitat. Applications are due December 30, 2011.
Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay are leading the way for protecting water quality, but they are just one of many players working to address water pollution in the bay. Maryland counties are developing detailed plans, known as Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs, and they want farmers and other citizens involved in the conversation. A long-time partner with American Farmland Trust, Dr. Russell Brinsfield of the Harry Hughes Center for Agro Ecology is helping pilot counties as they embark on the early steps of this process. Read the latest Working Landscapes newsletter to get answers to your questions, find out what part you can play and how we can all support our local farms!
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.
Working to Protect Farmland and Improve Water Quality
Our Mid-Atlantic Director, Jim Baird, recently spent time discussing the relationship between farmland protection and water quality with members of the Baltimore County Farmland Preservation Board, farmers and other citizens, and local conservation organizations. Baird presented on how working lands protection and land use planning go hand in hand to produce better water quality outcomes. The question has arisen in the context of the federal strategy mandated by President Obama’s executive order to clean up the bay.
The Kilby family has farmed in Cecil County, Maryland, for more than 100 years. Having recently opened their own bottling plant and ice cream business, the dairy must now address additional challenges in running the 590 cow farm. In 2009, the Kilbys participated in our BMP Challenge to address production and environmental risks, and they have continued to seek opportunities to protect the future of their farm. Make your own commitment to protect the future of our farms and our natural resources by taking our Clean Water Challenge!
The first decade of the 21st century has ended and with it, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia passed a major milestone for the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. The regional agreement acknowledged the crucial role land conservation plays in the Bay’s water quality and set a goal to protect 20 percent of the farm, forest and ecological land area in the watershed. In just 10 years, the states have preserved 7.26 million acres!
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.