The Obama administration announced Tuesday that farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region can vie for a share of $400 million available nationwide for reducing erosion and polluted runoff from fields and feedlots.
Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources in the Department of Agriculture, predicted that the new "regional conservation partnership program" unveiled by his department would be "a very important tool" for helping restore the bay, even if Congress has trimmed overall funding for farm conservation efforts.
Under the farm bill that Congress passed earlier this year, a combined $400 million has been reserved for funding conservation projects across the country this year and next, Bonnie said. Thirty-five percent of that money is set aside for projects in eight "critical conservation areas," including the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
The announcement was welcomed by bay advocates, even though there's no assurance the Chesapeake region will receive anything like the $50 million a year it had been getting under the now-expired 2008 federal farm bill. In the new legislation, Congress not only trimmed conservation funding but consolidated programs, eliminating a Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative.
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said he and other bay supporters in Congress had fought for assurances of continued federal funding for the Chesapeake in the new farm bill. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called financial help for farmers crucial to restoring the bay and its tributaries.
To qualify, farmers and farm groups will be expected to team up with businesses, universities and others to provide matching funds and expertise. Bonnie said more funding for bay conservation efforts could come through other USDA programs.