ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Department of Agriculture has announced a new Conservation Buffer Initiative for farmers interested in planting streamside buffers on their farms to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The new pilot program aims to increase the amount of forest and grass buffers planted next to waterways and field ditches to filter nutrients and sediment runoff from fields.

“Maryland farmers are seen around the nation as leaders in conservation practices,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “The new Conservation Buffer Initiative is another tool in the tool box for Maryland farmers who are working in the field to help protect the Chesapeake Bay and improve water quality. The department is excited to launch this new initiative that was designed based on farmer feedback to be more flexible with shorter contract terms, easier site management, and protection for streams and field ditches.”

Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan includes a goal to plant 63,980 acres of buffers by 2025. To help meet this goal, farmers can sign up for grants through the department’s Conservation Buffer Initiative during the four-week enrollment period from Jan. 11 to Feb. 5, 2021.

The following three types of buffers will be eligible for funding and free technical assistance under this pilot program:

  • Grass Buffers on Watercourses – Establish a new buffer or improve an existing buffer between cropland and either an adjacent watercourse or field ditch.
  • Forest Buffers on Watercourses – Establish a new buffer or improve an existing buffer between cropland and an adjacent watercourse.
  • Watercourse Access Control Area – Establish a new access control area or improve an existing access control area between an adjacent watercourse and an active livestock pasture. Additional funding is available to establish livestock exclusion fencing.

Participating farmers receive a one-time payment to help offset costs to establish a buffer on their farms with 75% paid when the contract is executed and the remaining 25% when the project is completed. Payment rates range from $500 per acre for an existing grass buffer to a maximum of $3,500 per acre to install a riparian buffer with fencing. Contracts are for 5 or 10 years. Site installations will be verified through the Soil Conservation Districts. 

Mowing and hay harvesting will still be allowed, but nutrient applications will not. All buffer projects must be completed by June 30, 2022.

Farmers who want to install new buffers on land adjacent to waterways or improve existing buffers are encouraged to sign up. The program offers no-contact enrollment on the department’s website. For help with applications or questions, please contact your local soil conservation district.

Funding for Maryland’s Conservation Buffer Initiative is provided by the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

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