NRCS Funding Will Support Maryland Grazing Program

(ANNAPOLIS, MS)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced today that it will contribute more than $770,000 to efforts by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and partners to efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture in Maryland. NRCS funding and partner contributions, totaling more than $1.5 million, will increase adoption of rotational grazing systems and complementary practices like livestock stream exclusion, off-stream watering, and forested buffers in Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Montgomery, and Baltimore counties. These counties are home to the highest concentration of dairy and livestock operations within Maryland.

“By adopting these practices Maryland farm families will build healthier soils that make farmland more resilient to weather extremes, as well as sequestering carbon to reduce greenhouse gasses,” said Beth McGee, CBF Director of Science and Agricultural Policy. “Family farms can clearly make a difference in efforts to slow climate change.”

The project has a goal of converting at least 600 acres of cropland to pasture and rotational grazing and planting 75 acres of riparian forested buffers. It is estimated that this will result in annual pollution reductions of roughly 10,000 pounds of nitrogen, more than 1.300 pounds of phosphorus, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 500 metric tons annually.

“It is not just about reducing pollution,” said CBF’s Agricultural Specialist, and sheep and cattle farmer, Michael Heller, who has led CBF’s efforts to promote the environmental and economic benefits of grazing. “There are clear economic benefits to farmers from converting to grazing systems, from reduced feed and labor costs, and lower veterinary bills, to a premium price for grass-fed products.”

This project also leverages a recent National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant to CBF, the Mountains-to-Bay (M2B) Grazing Alliance. The M2B Alliance brings together private and public partners from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. One purpose of both projects is to connect farmers with state and federal financial resources and leverage private funds to provide more flexible options for implementation.

“Just as in many other businesses, farmers are reluctant to abandon tried and true business practices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘Don’t tell me about grazing, show me that it will improve my bottom line,’” Heller added. “We can do that. We put producers in touch with other farmers who have demonstrated success and offer the technical assistance to implement these practices on their farms.”

Partners in the current project include Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture. In addition, through an existing partnership with CBF, WGL Energy and Sterling Planet are providing e funding to implement practices that have dual benefits of reducing water pollution and greenhouse gases.

Federal funding comes through the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land.

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service is pleased to partner with CBF on this project to help farmers adopt conservation practices that improve water quality and their bottom line,” said Terron Hillsman, NRCS State Conservationist in Maryland. “Through RCPP, we’re leveraging our federal dollars with partner contributions to make an impact for natural resource conservation that could never have been realized on our own.”

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