ANNAPOLIS – The Chesapeake Bay Foundation presented the General Assembly with its legislative wish list Tuesday, calling for the state to commit $100 million a year to preserve farmland and make agriculture more environmentally friendly.
Kim Coble, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, outlined the group’s requests at a meeting of the Agricultural Stewardship Commission. She described the open-ended budget requests as “appropriate,” and said they were based on a consensus of agriculture and environmental experts around the state.
“While many farmers have already taken steps to reduce pollution and many more are willing, there is a significant gap between current funding and what is needed to meet 2010 goals” for reducing pollution of the state’s waterways, the foundation said in a written fact sheet accompanying the presentation.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, called the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s requests “aggressive, but doable” and said she was optimistic that the General Assembly would be able to get some of them through. McIntosh is co-chair of the Agricultural Stewardship Commission, an advisory board created by the General Assembly in April to come up with ways to protect the bay from harmful effects of farming without hurting the farmers themselves.
The foundation’s requests for the fiscal 2007 budget include:
— $14 million for cover crops, which are planted in the off-season and can reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion. The foundation says that sum would ensure that approximately 300,000 acres of cover crops are planted as part of the existing cover crop program managed by Maryland Department of Agriculture.
— $8 million for alternative crops, such as switchgrass and hull-less barley, which can be used as biofuels. The funds would provide for research and development.
— $30 million for buffers and wetlands, which can absorb nitrogen pollution and help slow runoff before it hits streams.
— $35 million for manure management. Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommends that up to $5 million of these funds be directed toward innovative and alternative manure management practices.
— $13 million for technical assistance, outreach and education. The foundation recommends increasing the staff of state agencies and local conservation districts. In particular, the foundation requested that Maryland target at least $3 million to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. — $20 million for farmland preservation. Encroaching development was frequently cited as the biggest threat to agriculture in the listening sessions sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture this past summer.