After experiencing so much success with the Agriculture Program in Pennsylvania, the Alliance recently expanded its agricultural conservation efforts to Maryland and Virginia. I was hired as the Maryland Agriculture Projects Coordinator in October 2021. My task is to use the Alliance’s success in Pennsylvania as a template to pioneer new agricultural work in Maryland. Since I started in October, I have been working closely with the Pennsylvania team to learn about existing projects and procedures, as well as meeting with players in the Maryland agricultural field such as, staff with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, nonprofit partners in Maryland, local Soil Conservation Districts, potential corporate partners, and farmers. These meetings have been productive, and we are starting to develop our strategy and path forward in Maryland.

While we have a tremendous guide for agricultural conservation work in Pennsylvania, we will have to tailor our work in Maryland to meet the unique needs of the state. Maryland is arguably well ahead of their neighboring states in the Chesapeake watershed in respect to requiring certain BMPs to be installed on new farms, as well as providing farmers with a separate pool of funding to pay for these BMPs with the Maryland Agricultural Cost Share Program (MACS). This pool of funding is offered in addition to the Federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to farmers to help offset the costs of BMPs for farmers. The MACS program reimburses up to 87.5% on many approved practices (with some covered at 100%)–this is a tremendous deal–however, farmers may still be reluctant to install BMPs if they are operating on thin margins. The remaining 12.5% of the cost of projects can still be several thousand dollars, depending on the type and size of the practice.

Our goal is to learn more about the needs of farmers in Maryland, make sure they are in contact with the local Soil Conservation Districts, and identify gaps in funding in the EQIP and MACS programs that may be preventing farmers from installing BMPs on their farms. Indeed, we are finding that dairy farmers may have a unique need for additional funds for their projects. Additionally, we want to explore innovative manure management practices and expand our corporate partnerships in Maryland. Once we have this framework in place, we can begin seeking additional conservation practice funding for our Maryland farmers. Further, we have identified several potential corporate partners, and have begun a dairy manure injection project on the Western Shore of Maryland in partnership with Sustainable Chesapeake and Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative, Inc. through the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund. This project has already funded manure injection on 628.5 acres and funded the installation of a manure separator on a dairy farm in Cecil County.

It is an exciting time at the Alliance, and I am proud to have joined the team at such a crucial time where we are expanding our footprint in the watershed, installing conservation practices, and ultimately achieving our organizational mission of “[Bringing] together communities, companies, and conservationists to improve our lands and waters.” We have been learning that not only do these conservation practices improve water quality, but in some instances, they increase yields, make farms more profitable, sequester carbon, and can increase resiliency as we continue to see the trend of warming temperatures and increased severe weather. I, as well as my other Alliance teammates, are eager to take on this challenge and implement these projects not only to increase water quality but also to help farmers become more efficient and productive in the future.