ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 26, 2016)—A Prince George's County farm owned and operated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the first farm in the state to be certified by the Maryland Department of Agriculture under the Agricultural Certainty Program.
This voluntary program, created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2013, gives Maryland farmers a 10-year exemption from new environmental laws and regulations in return for installing best management practices that meet State or Chesapeake Bay Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) goals ahead of schedule. The program is administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture in coordination with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
"Maryland is one of only nine states that either have a certainty program or are developing one" said Susan Payne, Coordinator of Ecosystem Markets and Certainty Programs at the department. " Certainty programs reward the conservation efforts that farmers have already made to protect water quality, and Maryland's farmers should be proud that they are recognized as leaders in protecting the environment not only in the Bay watershed, but across the country."
The CBF farm—known as the Clagett Farm– once grew tobacco. Its soils grew poorer over time, and the farm now sees soil health as the key to successful farming. Clagett produces over 80,000 pounds of produce a year. Cattle and sheep also are raised on pasture.
The department certified 281.2 acres on the Clagett Farm for the Certainty Program. Certification means the farm has implemented best management practices that are consistent with the state's goals to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment entering the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and other waters of the state.
"Working with the Ag Certainty folks from MDA was such a positive experience. I wasn't sure what to expect, but they were really helpful," said Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller said. "We are also fortunate to have such a strong Soil Conservation District here in Prince Georges County. I'd encourage any farmer to go through the process, and to do so with the confidence that the program staff are there to be helpful and supportive."
The program allows participating farmers to conduct business in a predictable regulatory setting while providing assurance that agricultural pollution controls are being implemented. Farmers must address nutrient and sediment runoff on farms using a Soil Conservation and Water Quality? Plan and a current Nutrient Management Plan.
"Thirty-five years ago, Clagett Farm was started to be a model sustainable farm in the Chesapeake region. We applied for the Agriculture Certainty Program certification to demonstrate that farmers can meet the gold standard of environmental stewardship and still be highly productive food growers," said Maryland Executive Director of CBF Alison Prost. "We hear farmers say environmental regulations change too often. This program provides a solution to that concern. A farm can be certified as having no negative impacts on local water quality. In addition to the satisfaction of being a good steward of the land, a farmer also can have peace of mind for 10 years that he or she won't face additional regulatory requirements."
For more information about the program, see mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Pages/agricultural_certainty_program.aspx