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I recently attended a few of the Maryland Department of Agriculture's (MDA) county workshops to create the third phase of the watershed implementation plan for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Check out this past post to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay TMDL process and the role the agricultural sector plays in the clean-up. The purpose of the workshops is to hear from farmers and other stakeholders about what best management practices can be implemented on farms in the respective county to reduce nutrient loading to the Bay. One of the practices that all Maryland farmers should consider, if they haven't already, is creating a Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plan (Conservation Plan).
The creation of a Conservation Plan is one of the best management practices that is used to calculate whether the agricultural sector has met its nutrient reduction goals. According to MDA experts, there are many Maryland farms that do not have Conservation Plans and the lack of Plans makes the agricultural sector's nutrient reduction goals that much harder to achieve.
A Conservation plan can be created, free of charge, by a conservation planner working in a local soil conservation district. Conservation planners, when creating a plan, visit the farm and customize the plan to address the natural resource concerns of the individual farm. A Conservation Plan typically contains:
- An aerial photograph, map, or diagram of the farm
- An inventory of natural resources on the property
- A soil map showing the type and location of soils on the farm
- A list of management decisions, agreed upon best management practices, and an implementation schedule
- An operation and maintenance plan for installed practices l Additional information on soil loss, seeding, tillage, and fertilization may be included
According to MDA, "Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plans help farmers manage their operations more efficiently, save on energy and labor costs, improve soil health, enhance wildlife habitat, and care for forest resources." The recommended best management practices outlined in Conservation Plans can be funded through state or federal cost-share options.
Unlike nutrient management plans which bind farmers to fertilize crops and manage animal waste in accordance with the plan, Conservation Plans outline options which for most farmers are voluntary. Conservation Plans are required for farms in Maryland's Critical Area, enrolled in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program and on highly erodible lands. The Maryland Department of Environment also requires Conservation Plans for permitting of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Given the many positive attributes of a Conservation Plan it is surprising that all farmers don't take advantage of opportunity to create and implement a Plan. To learn more about Conservation Plans, visit your local soil conservation district and ask how a plan can benefit your operation and help Maryland meet its Chesapeake Bay Clean-up goals.