Nearly $1 million of federal money will be available to Maryland farmers this year to meet federal, state and local environmental regulations.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was awarded the money through the national Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to producers to improve their air, soil, water, plant and animal resources.
“There’s a total backlog. So much money is needed, it’s not even funny,” said Rob Schnabel, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s farm stewardship manager for Maryland.
Two years ago, no organizations applied for the money earmarked for Maryland, and last year only $300,000 was available for $4 million worth of projects in Frederick, Washington and Carroll counties.
The $900,000 awarded this year to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be used to help farmers install manure storage facilities, purchase cover crops, or install stream fencing to keep livestock out of local waterways. These best management practices are aimed at improving the health of the watershed, which drains into the Chesapeake Bay.
This year, the foundation will also promote helping farms transition from crops to grazing operations, Schnabel said.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded the Chesapeake Bay Foundation an additional $200,000 to convert cornfields to grazing pastures in the upper Potomac watersheds of Maryland and West Virginia.
Farms could use the money to install perimeter fencing and water troughs in the fields.
“We need these practices in as fast as we can,” Schnabel said.
In total, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed more than $12.6 million to support the restoration and conservation of the bay’s watershed in six states and Washington, D.C.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed cutting funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which would have limited the amount of money available to farmers to implement new best management practices.
Much of the federal money the foundation received will be matched by local and private funds, Schnabel said.
WGL Energy, a natural gas and renewable energy arm of Washington Gas Light Co., offers customers the option to purchase carbon offsets through a partnership with Sterling Planet, said spokesman Bernie Tylor.
The partnership has donated $1.5 million to its Carbon Reduction Fund, which is managed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and used to match funds for the government. Over 23,000 trees have been planted using the fund since the program started in 2010.
The big-picture goals of the foundation’s projects are to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the streams and rivers in the watershed, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay, Schnabel said.
The sign-up period recently began for farmers in Frederick, Washington and Carroll counties who would like to leverage some of the available $900,000. Farmers can sign up at their soil conservation district office.