WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-MD) today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with $20 million in additional funding for efforts to improve the health of the Bay. USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is setting aside these additional funds for the Chesapeake Bay region through its Landscape Conservation Initiative. The funds will be available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to continue the momentum in addressing the conservation efforts in the Bay’s watershed.
“Our farmers are some the greatest stewards of the Chesapeake Bay, and I applaud USDA’s decision to make more funding available to farmers who are working to protect the Bay, but need additional resources to do so. Farming in the Bay Watershed is tough and that’s why I am fighting in Congress to provide greater resources to farmers so that they can make a decent living growing the food our nation needs, while also taking care of our state and our region’s most precious natural resource,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The Chesapeake Bay is an integral part of who we are as Marylanders – our heritage, our economy and our culture,” said Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee which funds USDA. “Maryland farmers and communities want to stand up for the health of the Bay, but they can’t do it on their own. This funding is a federal investment in the lives and livelihoods that depend on the Bay. I will continue to fight to protect the Bay to sustain jobs and support Maryland’s farmers with the resources they need.”
In June, the Senate passed the 2012 Farm Bill with large bipartisan support. The House, however, has yet to act on the bill. When the 2007 Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2012, the authorization for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), a program championed by Senators Cardin and Mikulski in the 2007 Farm Bill that has provided $50 million in additional USDA conservation funds annually for farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, also expired.
On October 1, Senators Cardin, Mikulski and Senators from other Bay Watershed states wrote the USDA requesting USDA take proactive measures to inform farmers about the implications of the Farm Bill expiring, specifically about the decreased availability of conservation funding in the Chesapeake Bay region. While NRCS has some conservation resources available for farmers through its national conservation programs, the absence of passage of a Farm Bill has prevented NRCS from writing new CBWI contracts with farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region. This decision by the USDA to dedicated $20 million in conservation funds to Bay region farmers is a positive step.
The 2012 Farm Bill consolidates the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program with similar conservation programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The structure of the RCPP emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to work together to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects. The RCPP also focuses conservation funds on regions with the greatest conservation needs and Senator Cardin has worked to increase overall funding for the new RCPP program in the Farm Bill.
Nearly all of Maryland counties lie within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. NRCS field offices in Maryland provide technical and financial assistance to producers and forest landowners to implement conservation practices. Installing conservation practices that help improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries has been very popular with Maryland farmers. In 2011, producers entered into 521 contracts for conservation assistance that would benefit the Bay.