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New Year, Same Commitment to Resource Conservation

MD Secretary of Agriculture Joe BartenfelderPublished in the Jan. 31, 2021 edition of Lancaster Farming

By: Secretary Joe Bartenfelder

For most Marylanders, the beginning of the new year serves as a time for reflecting on the past and setting goals for the future. The same is true for many of us farmers across the state. 

Though there are less tractors moving about and no corn standing high in the field, Maryland farmers are hard at work across the state using the “off season” to continue to care for animals, wrap up last year’s business operations, and prepare for the upcoming planting season.

Many of us use this time to submit our Annual Implementation Reports (AIRs) that detail nutrient applications from the previous calendar year. For those doing this now, AIR forms can, for the first time, be submitted electronically and are due to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) by March 1. Visit for more information.

In terms of planning for the year ahead, farmers are drafting nutrient management plans and making critical decisions about planting season. This includes how, when, and where to fertilize crops. MDA is encouraging Maryland farmers who are able to apply phosphorus to consider making the switch from using commercial fertilizers to using poultry litter in their fields. 

Poultry litter is a natural fertilizer that is rich in nutrients and micronutrients that promote soil health and produce strong, viable crops. Additionally, it serves as an excellent low-cost, slow release fertilizer for grain, hay, and organic-certified field crops.

MDA’s Manure Transport Program offers “FastTrack” grants that provide cost-share assistance for qualified farmers interested in using poultry litter for crop production and soil health. Currently, the “FastTrack” grants offer up to $22.50/ton for qualified farmers interested in receiving and applying poultry litter. New improvements to the program allow farmers to haul poultry manure now and apply for cost-share reimbursement later, making it easier than ever to make the switch from commercial fertilizer. Visit for more details.

This initiative is also an important part of the state’s efforts to reduce nutrient runoff from fields with high phosphorus levels and to protect the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Manure Transport Program allows farms with high phosphorus to ship their litter to fields in other parts of the state that are able to safely apply phosphorus. 

The transport program is one of the most effective tools in our toolbox as we move forward into the final phase of implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT). The PMT is a crucial component of the state’s efforts in meeting Maryland’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) targets, which work to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Just this past month, MDA also launched the Maryland Conservation Buffer Initiative. A program that offers attractive incentive payments, easy sign-up, and more management options for farmers who want to plant streamside buffers to improve water quality. The enrollment period runs from Jan. 11-Feb. 5, 2021, and more information can be found on the department’s website:

For Maryland farmers living and working within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we encourage you to think about incorporating these soil health and best management practices into your operation this year.

MDA remains staunchly committed to working with our regional partners to protect the health of the bay and to make it as easy as possible for our farmers to do so, as well. Maryland agriculture is often looked to as the national standard for resource conservation and sustainable farming practices, and we look forward to continuing this legacy in 2021.