Ches. Bay Foundation Honors Conservationists of the Year - Southern Maryland Headline News

Ches. Bay Foundation Honors Conservationists of the Year

ANNAPOLIS - The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Maryland Conservationist of the Year award this year honors the agricultural field staffs of the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs). These individuals work to improve water quality in our rivers, streams, and the Bay by helping farmers implement conservation practices. The staff works out of the 24 soil conservation district offices located throughout the state.

"These dedicated workers are a tremendous asset for farmers and for Maryland's water quality," said Kim Coble, CBF's Maryland Executive Director. "Their work is mainly behind the scenes, but what they do is critical to keeping agriculture healthy and reduce runoff to our rivers, streams, and the Bay. They are out in the field, making a difference every day."

CBF honored the more than 200 staff members from counties across Maryland on June 11 with a day of Bay-related activities and a reception at the Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis. CBF gives the award annually to honor outstanding service and commitment to the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay.

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, praised the work being done around the state.

"I'm so proud of the Maryland Soil Conservation Districts, MDA, and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff for receiving this honor. The Chesapeake Bay is part of who we are as Marylanders - our heritage and our culture," said Senator Mikulski. "I applaud this organization's hard work and will continue to join them in doing all I can do to protect Maryland's greatest natural resource."

"The experts that we are recognizing today provide the vital link in making our farms productive, our soil and water pure, and our economy vibrant," said Senator Cardin.

The staff helps educate farmers about available conservation practices, provide technical assistance, and put on-the-farm management practices into place. The staff has contributed to tens of thousands of projects, ranging from planting cover crops and forested buffers, to developing soil conservation and water-quality plans, to obtaining grants, and stabilizing shorelines. All of these practices help improve water quality.

"Soil conservation district field staff are where the rubber meets the road in agricultural conservation on farms," said Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson. "We are delighted that their expertise and outstanding service to farmers are being recognized. Today, because of the work of soil conservation district personnel, Maryland and its farmers are recognized nationally as conservation leaders."

Farmer Ed Heikes of Belle Aire Farms in St. Michaels participates in the Conservation Security Program (CSP), a NRCS-administered, voluntary conservation program that supports ongoing stewardship by providing funds for maintaining and enhancing conservation practices. Participants receive payments that increase as additional resource concerns are addressed.

"Like most farmers, I believe in balancing sound conservation practices with agricultural production," Heikes said. "For 19 years, I have been farming using practices that decrease soil erosion, protect water quality, and produce a quality crop. CSP is a great program that rewards farmers for doing the right thing and encourages others to recognize the connection that their farmland has to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay."

The staff's work includes:

* MDA's MACS (Maryland Agriculture Cost-Share) program funded $100 million for 21,000 projects over the past 20 years across the state. That's about three projects a day, every day of the week, for the past 20 years. MDA and SCD staff helped put these water-quality improvement practices on the ground.

* NRCS Maryland provided $36,293,116 in financial assistance to Maryland's farmers through conservation programs authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. NRCS and Maryland Conservation Partnership employees provided conservation technical assistance that benefited more than 210,000 acres of agricultural land.

* This year, NRCS provided $2.8 Million to protect 1,200 acres of Maryland farmland. Over the past five years, NRCS used funds from the Farm Bill's Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to protect more than 21,000 acres of agricultural land.

* In 2006, SCD planners developed 950 comprehensive Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plans for 79,300 acres of Maryland farmland, and updated another 1,300 plans covering 148,700 acres. Together, these plans contained 7,800 best management practices.

* In 2006, SCD helped Maryland farmers secure more than $20 million in grants from local, state, and federal sources.

CBF has been working with the agricultural community to secure funding that will enhance conservation programs. Last year, CBF worked to pass the Agricultural Stewardship Act, and is currently heading an effort to obtain more funds for Bay-area farmers through the Farm Bill.

"It's a simple fact that without the work of all these dedicated staff members in the field, we could not save the Bay," Coble said. "Each day, they are getting us closer to that goal."

Source: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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