Maryland opens up conservation buffer initiative funds to farmers to improve water quality

23 January 2024- The Maryland Department of Agriculture has announced that the 2024 enrollment period for its Conservation Buffer Initiative runs from January 29 through March 8. Qualifying farmers who plant forest buffers receive a one-time $1,000/acre signing bonus in addition to the attractive incentive payment for this practice.

Now in its fourth year, Maryland’s Conservation Buffer Initiative offers generous incentive payments, easy enrollment, and a range of management options for farmers who plant streamside buffers on their farms to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

“The department takes pride in crafting attractive programs that resonate with farmers and foster widespread participation and commitment,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks. “This program is helping Maryland to meet its clean water goals for the Chesapeake Bay. Additionally, it aligns with the objectives of the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021, which calls on Marylanders to plant and maintain 5 million native trees by 2031. Once again, Maryland farmers are meeting these challenges head-on.” 

Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Plan aims to plant 63,980 acres of forest buffers by 2025 to protect water quality in the Bay and its tributaries. As of June 30, 2023, Maryland has achieved over 85% of this goal. According to the 5 Million Trees Tracking Dashboard, 471,890 trees have been planted across the state as of October 26, 2023.

Three types of buffers are eligible for funding and free technical assistance from local soil conservation districts under the Conservation Buffer Initiative: forest buffers planted next to waterways, grass buffers planted next to waterways or field ditches, and watercourse access control areas adjacent to pastures. Here are the 2024 program highlights:

  • Payment rates range from $500/acre for an existing grass buffer to a maximum of $4,500/acre to install a riparian forest buffer with pasture fencing.
  • Annual maintenance payments are available for forest buffers during the first 5 years of the contract.
  • An extra one-time bonus payment of $1,000/acre is offered for enrolled forest buffers.
  • Mowing and hay harvesting are allowed; nutrient applications are not.​
  • Contracts are for 5 or 10 years.​
  • Soil conservation districts provide farmers with free technical assistance to install buffers.
  • All work must be completed by June 30, 2025.

Farmers who want to install new buffers on land adjacent to waterways or improve existing buffers are encouraged to apply for this program by March 8. Applications and required forms are available on the website and at local soil conservation districts. Questions? Conservation experts at your local soil conservation district office can help you with your application.  

The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, Bay Restoration Fund, and the Environmental Protection Agency provide funding for Maryland’s Conservation Buffer Initiative.