Surrounded by fields of grain, Governor Martin O'Malley, joined by Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, today announced record cover crop acreage and new innovative conservation efforts by Maryland farmers. Agricultural leaders, local farmers and local elected officials gathered for the event. The announcements were followed by locally-grown and made refreshments from producers associated with Shore Gourmet.
"Today's announcement is great news for our farmers who continually prove that they are voluntarily taking strong conservation actions on their farms to diversify their operations and use new technologies as they become available to protect the Chesapeake Bay and make their farms more efficient," said Governor O'Malley. "The future of agriculture and our environment is bright as we use new science and technology to better manage our fiscal and natural resources and to move our One Maryland forward in a transparent and accountable way."
Cover crops are important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the productivity of Maryland's farmland. Small grains, such as wheat, rye or barley, planted as cover crops in the fall, tie-up unused nutrients, control soil erosion, and protect water quality in the Bay and its tributaries.
Governor O'Malley announced that Maryland has approved a record 502,323 acres of winter grains in the Cover Crop Program, which was requested by a record 1,688 farmers. This represents 155 percent of the 2-year Bay milestone for cover crops. Additionally, he announced that the Department of Agriculture has received a new $600,000 grant to implement a cutting-edge cover crop management tool that will be made available to inform the Bay model. This tool uses remote sensing to look at fields planted with cover crops to determine how efficient they are at taking up nutrients. Farmers will also receive reports on their fields so they can better manage the cover crop.
"Not only is Maryland's cover crop program a very attractive and flexible program, it has the potential to do more for the Bay than ever before. Maryland farmers are on track to exceed the 2-year milestone for cover crops with record number of approved acres," said Agriculture Secretary Hance. "We commend and thank all farmers who, together, have enrolled more than half a million acres of small grain crops that protect our soil and water by taking up any left over nutrients and preventing soil erosion over the winter."
Governor O'Malley also announced MDA's Conservation Tracker database system. Conservation Tracker is a new system piloted in Talbot County to provide an accurate accounting of best management practices (BMPs) in use on Maryland farms. Conservation Tracker is used to inform BayStat reporting and tracks Maryland's 2011 Milestones for Chesapeake Bay. The new system, which became operational in September 2009, provides a geo-referenced profile of the location of BMPs installed on Maryland farms and calculates the nutrient reduction credits Maryland farmers receive for all their efforts. Currently, the program includes only those practices with government funding involved. The plan is to expand to include those BMPs that the farmer has paid for and maintained. It will help MDA target technical and financial resources to areas that can achieve the greatest water quality benefits.
The announcements were made at Hutchison Bros. Farm in Cordova, one of Talbot County's largest farms with more than 3,600 acres in production of grain, lima beans, peas, cucumbers and seed sales. The Hutchisons are agricultural leaders and Governor's Hall of Fame inductees. They are known for their use of technology and forward thinking, conservation and environmental stewardship and service to the county and the industry. Much of the property in the farm operation is permanently preserved through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and through the Rural Legacy Program in conjunction with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
Making the connection between farming and our local food supply, refreshments for the event were provided by Shore Gourmet and local farms and food producers including: S.B. Farms, Hurlock; Cedar Run Farm, Sudlersville; J.M. Clayton Seafood, Cambridge; Pecan Yummies, Easton; Creative Cookies, Easton; and Chapel's Country Creamery, Easton.