ANNAPOLIS (July 18, 2007) - Governor Martin O'Malley today brought good news for the farming community during his presentation to some of the state's leading agricultural conservationists at the Annual Meeting of the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts. He announced a new energy conservation program for farmers and a number of other environmentally positive activities, including cover crop sign up numbers for this fall, $1.3 million in grants to help small-sized equine farm operations with manure management, and progress toward filling soil conservation district positions that provide financial and technical assistance to farmers.
"Today, as development threatens our agricultural economy and our environment, the soil conservation district's presence on the front lines is more important than ever," said Governor O'Malley during his remarks. "They employ their expertise, commitment, and hard work in making sure that farmers receive the technical and financial assistance they need to remain profitable and to continue their strong stewardship of the land. Going forward, our budget will continue to phase in the new soil conservation district positions provided for in HB2 last year."
Building on the state's new strategic energy conservation program, Empower Maryland, Governor O'Malley announced an agricultural element that will provide energy audits to Western Maryland farmers. The audits will advise farmers on ways that they can cut expenses through reduced energy consumption. Through a pilot program completed last year, 25 farmers on the Eastern Shore who were enrolled in the federal Conservation Security Program (CSP) received energy audits. These audits identified potential savings of 471,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, 46,000 gallons of propane annually and approximately $300,000 in annual productivity benefits (or increased yield).
Governor O'Malley also announced the sign up for this year's winter cover crop program, which will be planted this fall. Sign up for this year totals just over $13 million for 330,600 acres. The record $8.2 million made available in this year's budget is expected to cover the approved planted acreage. Records from previous years show that about 65% of acres signed up are actually planted and paid.
Also highlighted in the Governor's remarks was the $1.3 million in conservation funding that Maryland recently received to help owners and operators of small-sized equine operations in Central and Southern Maryland with their manure and pasture management. Across the state, more than 200,000 acres are used for exclusively for horse pasture, with equine operations taking up more than 600,000 acres or more than 10 percent of Maryland's land mass.
Governor O'Malley acknowledged the serious affects that this year's rainfall shortage is having on crops, particularly corn, hay and pasture. Reports indicate that the Mid and Lower Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland are the driest; however, spotty rainfall in Central Maryland counties has created extremely dry patches there as well.
"We understand the seriousness of the current weather situation to our farmers and are monitoring the situation closely, gathering data to determine if or when we should ask for a disaster designation from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and considering actions the state can take to help if needed," said Governor O'Malley.
Source: Maryland Dept. of Agriculture