WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin today testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee to urge inclusion in the farm bill of “important conservation programs that will give farmers the resources they need to be profitable while at the same time helping to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.” The farm bill is up for reauthorization this year.
The Senator told the Committee that agriculture is Maryland's largest industry. The state's 12,100 farms cover more than 2 million acres and produce $1.3 billion of agricultural products. He also stressed that “the Chesapeake Bay is America's largest estuary and we have an obligation to preserve and protect it for future generations.”
However, said Senator Cardin, “Much of the excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that ends up in the Bay starts on the farm. Maryland farmers have made good use of the USDA conservation programs in the past. We have an opportunity with this reauthorization to expand conservation efforts that will further reduce farm runoff into the Bay.”
The states in the watershed have developed cleanup strategies to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Those strategies rely heavily on greatly expanding conservation practices on farms in the watershed. More than half of all future nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions are slated to come from agricultural operations, in part because these conservation programs are so cost effective in removing excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
Specifically, Senator Cardin urged the Agriculture Committee to:
- Double funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other working lands programs;
- Support creation of a national $200 million a year Regional Water Enhancement Program to target and leverage funding in states, including Bay states, with the greatest potential for meaningful and measured water quality improvement;
- Expand the Conservation Security Program availability to all eligible farmers;
- Expand Technical Assistance, both for the pre- and post-application process, and establish a comprehensive technical assistance demonstration program in the Chesapeake Bay;
- Provide $300 million annually for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, with block grants to states with well-established conservation easement programs;
- Reauthorize programs such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program;
- Establish program to support non-industrial private forest owners in their best management practices and incorporate the Watershed Forestry Assistance programs into the Farm Bill;
- Expand funding for Conservation Innovation Grants to $100 million nationwide;
- Allow targeted, well-managed harvesting of cellulosic biomass from Conservation Reserve Program lands to generate energy while protecting water quality; and,
- Ensure a diversified national energy portfolio that includes the use of animal manure and cellulosic biomass to promote farm viability and protects both air and water resources.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses part of six states and all of the District of Columbia. The states include Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and Virginia. The watershed is home to more than 16.6 million people and more than 85,000 farms.