By Margaret Todd
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Maryland farmers are no strangers to the notion that healthy soils are good for business – Maryland boasts one of the highest rates of cover crop and no-till cost-share participation in the United States. Healthy soils not only make businesses more profitable, but also improve water quality and help Maryland achieve its water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay. Proper soil management also captures carbon from the atmosphere, helping the state reach its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan goals. The earth holds more carbon than the atmosphere, plants, and wildlife combined, and well-managed pastures can store more carbon than managed forests and cropland.
Livestock producers are perfectly poised to benefit from the increased focus on healthy soils and potential new funding options. Maryland growers are already participating in a pilot carbon-trading market based on credits earned by sequestering carbon in the soil. However, roughly forty percent of Maryland producers operate on leased lands and may wonder how to bring up conservation practices – including practices that promote soil health – with their landowners
To help livestock producers who lease pastureland, the Agriculture Law Education Initiative recently created the Sample Maryland Pasture Lease Agreement. This resource is a fillable template document featuring basic leasing provisions that livestock producers should consider incorporating into agreements. The template also features sample provisions for implementing conservation practices, like rotational grazing, that promote healthy soils. Other examples provided in the template include how to refer to best management practices, and a table that tenant and landowner can use to establish expectations for fencing maintenance, property inspections, and other areas of concern. It is always advisable, however, to seek the advice of an attorney when creating a contract to ensure it addresses your individual operational needs.
Producers who are looking for educational resources on what well-managed pastures look like should check out the University of Maryland Extension (UME) Beef Extension page. UME has plans to conduct Maryland Beef Producer’s Short-Course Series III that will focus on various aspects of good pasture development and management in both a classroom style and hands-on outdoor environment. Day-long workshops will be held in Western, Southern, Eastern, and Northern Maryland and cover how to identify healthy soils, identify weeds, select forages, and assess pastures. Due to recent COVID-19 outbreak measures, the April trainings are postponed. Contact the UME Beef and Dairy Coordinator, Racheal Slattery, at 301-405-1392 or via email at email@example.com for more information on registering.