How did cover crops grow to become one of the most used conservation practices in agriculture to restore the Chesapeake Bay? This video explores the origins of cover crop research in Maryland and how scientists at the University of Maryland Wye Research and Education Center and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology helped advance the practice toward national and international use.
The Hughes Center's Connection to Cover Crop Research
Maryland farmers can sign up for the state's cover crops program between July 1 and 18, 2022.
Cover crops are one of the most widely recognized and adopted agriculture practices to achieve water quality and improve soil health in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Maryland leads the nation in cover crop production, which has expanded into states across the country, yet, this practice was relatively untapped 30 years ago.
Cover crops provide benefits against soil erosion and nutrient runoff in the wintertime when fields are not being used for typical fair-weather crops. Each year, Maryland provides grant funding to farmers to help pay for seed, labor and equipment costs related to implementing cover crops on farms each fall.
This agricultural practice was pioneered by scientists with the University of Maryland Wye Research and Education Center (WREC) and then propounded by leaders at the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. WREC scientist Dr. Ken Staver provided the base research, and he worked with founding Hughes Center Executive Director and WREC Director Dr. Russ Brinsfield, who led the charge to urge policymakers to adopt a cover crop program in Maryland.
"(Russ Brinsfield) was very active in the agricultural community, too, so he was talking to farmers, so he really knew how it worked at the nuts and bolts level of how farmers make decisions and what it was going to take to get farmers to do that," Staver said.
"In the late '90s then, he was also instrumental in the formation of the Hughes Center and really one of the driving factors that Russ was interested in getting the Hughes Center started was this need to interface, an improved communication between the environmental and the agricultural community, but also a way to talk to both sides at the management level on the environmental side and the agricultural side," Staver said. "So it was a way to support research to sort of solve the environmental problem, but also maintain agricultural productivity, but also improve communication between the science and the policymakers."
The Hughes Center has continued funding cover crop-related research throughout the years. The most recent project was funded in 2019, when Lindsay Thompson, Executive Director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, began working on a project to explore the benefits of planting multiple species of cover crops in a single field rather than the typical monocrops.
Working with five farmers across Maryland, Thompson's goal was to plant approximately 200 acres of multi-species (cereal grain, legume and/or forage radish) cover crops and investigate whether they provided additional benefits beyond what monoculture cover crops provide. While weather created challenges for planting several plots, she observed demonstrable organic matter and available nitrogen increases on fields where multi-species cover crops were established. This could also lead to economic benefits through reduced fertilizer costs.
The results from this project led to the inclusion of multi-species cover crops in the Maryland Cover Crop Program for the first time last year. This year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, has increased the reimbursement rate of multi-species cover crops to $15 per acre.
For more information about the Maryland Cover Crop Program, other changes to the program this year and how to apply, visit: mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/pages/cover_crop.aspx?fbclid=IwAR1e3iT39a97WWM2AjoElGn-QZ3zF-GuPDVua6wcA0Rwtt4WEnxPNmFstaA
Hughes Center Receives $469,888 NFWF Grant for Saltwater Intrusion Study
A study being performed on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland will evaluate a potential management strategy for coastal farmlands impacted by an environmental phenomenon called saltwater intrusion.
Hughes Center Welcomes Two New Board Members
The Hughes Center is pleased to announce two new members to the Board of Directors — Christopher S. Zarba, former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, and Joshua A. Hastings, deputy director of the Lower Shore Land Trust.
Hughes Center Partners In $9M Project Examining Thriving Agriculture in Urban Landscapes
The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology and the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) are collaborating with multiple universities, partners, farmers, and stakeholders from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed region in a 5-year sustainable agriculture systems study.
Hughes Center Funds More Saltwater Intrusion Research
The Hughes Center has continued to fund important saltwater intrusion research happening on the Lower Eastern Shore by University of Maryland scientist Dr. Kate Tully. This research aims to develop agriculture ecosystems that are resilient in the face of rising sea levels.
Dr. Kate Everts named Hughes Center, WREC director
Dr. Kate Everts has been named director of the University of Maryland Wye Research and Education Center and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. It is a dual position as director of each separate entity that became effective in January 2020 after a nationwide search.
Mixed Cover Crop Research
Maryland has long had a cost-share cover crop program to help incentivize farmers to use this practice. However, farmers mostly plant single species of cover crops, such as a cereal grain like barley or winter wheat, meant to sequester nitrogen. A Hughes Center-funded study performed by Lindsay Thompson, formerly of the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, is finding that there are soil health, environmental and economic benefits to planting multiple species of cover crops in the same field.
Three agriculture and environmental leaders tapped for Hughes Center Board
The Hughes Center announces the board membership of former Maryland Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton; Amy Jacobs of the Nature Conservancy; and Pat Stuntz, formerly of Keith Campbell Foundation the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Forest Action Plan listening sessions held in May
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in concert with the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology of the University of Maryland, will host six public listening sessions in May to aid in the development of Maryland Forest Service’s 2020 Forest Action Plan (FAP). View the full 2015 Maryland Forest Action Plan or the Executive Summary.
The FAP assesses the current state of the forest resources and lays out the strategy for addressing forestry priorities in the state. These listening sessions will allow stakeholders to provide feedback on how the FAP should be structured and what it should include.
What are the biggest issues facing Maryland forests? Is there anything threatening the state's forestry industry? What resources do Maryland's forests and foresters need? In addition to participating in the listening sessions this May, please take a short survey (go.umd.edu/forestsurvey) to provide input on the needs of Maryland's forests and forestry moving forward.
Listening sessions are held in every region of the state this May, with identical information presented at each event. All sessions are free and open to the public; registration is available at the links below.
The dates and locations of the listening sessions are:
Western MD - Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Allegany College of Maryland, Continuing Education Building, Room 12/14
12401 Willowbrook Road, Cumberland, MD 21502
To register, visit go.umd.edu/fapwmd
Central MD (Frederick) - Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Urbana Regional Library, Anthony M. Natelli Community Room
9020 Amelung St., Frederick, MD 21704
To register, visit go.umd.edu/fapcmdf
Annapolis - Monday, May 13, 2019 - 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Department of Natural Resources, Room C-1
580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401
To register, visit go.umd.edu/fapcmda
Lower Eastern Shore - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Ward Museum of Wildfowl, Legacy Center
909 South Schumaker Drive, Salisbury, MD, 21804
To register, visit go.umd.edu/faples
Upper and Mid-Eastern Shore - Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Chesapeake College, Room HPAC-127
1000 College Circle, Wye Mills, MD 21679
To register, visit go.umd.edu/fapues
Southern MD - Monday, May 20, 2019 - 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Potomac Branch Library, Potomac Meeting Room
3225 Ruth B. Swann Drive, Indian Head, MD 20640
To register, visit go.umd.edu/fapsmd
Dr. Sarah Taylor-Rogers Selected as Interim Director of Hughes Center
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is pleased to appoint Dr. Sarah Taylor-Rogers as interim director of the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. Sarah assumed leadership duties on April 3 while the college launches a national search for a new director.
Sarah steps into this role with a wealth of knowledge and experience as the former assistant director and interim director of the Hughes Center. She is a proven leader, having individually procured over $500,000 in grants and contributions to fund research of key importance to the farming and forestry communities as well as to fund the first in-house communication and outreach position. She strengthened the relationships between Maryland's representatives in Congress as well as with key committees in the legislature to assist with additional funding for the Hughes Center. She designed and initiated the first watershed implementation planning workshops around the state with colleagues from the Departments of Natural Resources, Environment, Agriculture and Planning in an effort to reduce total maximum daily loads to the bay.
Sarah and staff will work closely with the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Board of Directors, and the Hughes Center's constituents to assure that the Center retains its "cutting edge" applied research approach to aid decision-makers in making sound policies based upon peer-reviewed science.
Sarah returns to the Hughes Center at a pivotal time with several high profile initiatives in progress. The Hughes Center is supporting agriculture’s role in environmental practices and soil health through funding key research initiatives, is working to close the disconnect with consumers by building a stronger regional food system, and is working with key state agencies to help update the state’s forest action plan.
“As president of the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, I welcome Sarah Taylor-Rogers back as interim executive director,” said Edwin Fry, Hughes Center board president. “Sarah has a distinguished history with the Hughes Center and can guide our outstanding staff to continue delivering science-based, applied research that fosters collaborative solutions.”
The college and Hughes Center staff also want to extend its deep appreciation to Suzanne Dorsey for her service and leadership as the previous director, and wish her the best in her new position with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
"Suzanne was a key player in developing research proposals that seek to answer some of the big questions the Hughes Center’s stakeholders in agriculture, forestry and the environment need to address to be sustainable. And with that came a strong sense of engagement with new and existing AGNR faculty, who make up the bulk of the principal investigators on these ongoing research projects,” said Nancy Nunn, the Hughes Center's assistant director. “Suzanne not only helped the Hughes Center increase the diversity of its stakeholders — with a focus on listening and responding to them — but also introduced new AGNR faculty in center-funded projects to these stakeholders, which will lead to strengthened relationships between the stakeholders and AGNR."
Hughes Center welcomes new board members, honors outgoing members
QUEENSTOWN — The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology recently welcomed six new members to its board of directors, while honoring two former members with emeritus status.
New to the Hughes Center board of directors are Maryland Senator Addie Eckardt; ShoreRivers regional director for the Chester and Sassafras rivers Isabel Hardesty; Talbot County farmer Ed Heikes; Maryland State Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Dr. Terron Hillsman; Eastern Shore Agriculture Sustains founder Steven Jones; and Natural Resource Solutions founder Ernie Shea.
“The lifeblood of the Hughes Center is rooted in attracting new, dynamic directors,” said Ed Fry, Hughes Center board president and Kent County farmer. “This year, we are fortunate that the six new directors will add tremendous quality and experience to what has always been a strong board.”
Emeritus board status was given to two longstanding board members. The Center’s namesake, former Governor Harry Hughes, has been promoted to president emeritus of the board. Also, Cordova farmer Bobby Hutchison has been promoted to member emeritus after serving the board since 2000.
“Both Governor Hughes and Bobby embody the core values of this organization — being a reasonable environmentalist and the ability to engage and solve problems with people whose relationships might otherwise be constrained by differences,” Hughes Center Executive Director Dr. Suzanne Dorsey said.
“The Hughes Center represents a small part of Governor Hughes’ legacy. The Center recognizes that we have to live up to his leadership, particularly in his efforts that led to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and taking the risks that have led all the Bay states down the path to a healthier environment,” Dorsey said. “Our new board members are bringing renewed expertise and energy to a board of established leaders.”
The board of directors for the Hughes Center — a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources — is comprised of members who represent different geographic areas of the state and reflect a balance among the agricultural, forestry, environmental, academic and public policy communities that the Center serves.
Founded in 1999, the Center provides leadership to promote environmentally sound and economically viable agriculture and forestry as Maryland’s preferred land use through research, outreach and collaboration.
Workshops teach how to draft farm leases to include conservation
QUEENSTOWN — Agricultural service providers, farmers, and landowners interested in learning about incorporating conservation practices on agricultural leased land are invited to a series of free workshops being held across Maryland in December and January.
The workshop series is being hosted jointly by the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. The workshops are supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number ENE18-151.
When it comes to leased farmland, it can be challenging for parties to implement conservation practices. Common challenges to using conservation practices on leased land include insufficient communication between landowners and farmers, lack of knowledge of practices and funding opportunities and a lack of stability in the leasing relationship.
To address these issues, ALEI and the Hughes Center teamed up to create the Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide, available for download on agresearch.umd.edu/agroecol and umaglaw.org. The Leasing Guide will be featured at the Agricultural Conservation Leasing Workshop series which will kick off with an informational webinar in November, followed by workshops in December and January.
The goal of the Agricultural Conservation Leasing Workshop Series is to equip agricultural service providers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to educate farmers and landowners on overcoming the challenges of using conservation practices on leased land.
“The Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide is a timely and valuable tool to help farmers and landowners overcome barriers in implementing conservation practices to expand the good work that farmers have done to support cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay,” Hughes Center Executive Director Dr. Suzanne Dorsey said.
The Agricultural Conservation Leasing Workshop series is not only a useful training experience for agricultural service providers but will be very valuable for farmers and landowners who are interested in installing conservation practices on leased farmland. Nutrient Management Credits are available for attendees.
Workshop dates and information are as follows. Visit agresearch.umd.edu/agroecol for further information or follow the links listed below to registration pages. All workshops are free to attend and lunch will be provided to participants at no cost. For questions or more information, contact Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology Assistant Director Nancy Nunn (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Communications Coordinator Josh Bollinger (email@example.com) at 410-827-8056.
Informational Webinar – November 15, 2018
Noon to 2 p.m.
To join meeting, visit: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasing
Lower Shore Workshop - December 10, 2018
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore, Salisbury MD 21804
Registration Information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingls
Mid-Shore Workshop - January 8, 2019
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Chesapeake College, Wye Mills MD 21679
Registration Information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingms
Southern Maryland Workshop - January 17, 2019
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Charles County Soil Conservation District, Waldorf MD 20601
Registration Information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingsmd
Western Maryland Workshop - January 23, 2019
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Frederick County Extension Office, Frederick MD 21702
Registration Information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingwmd
Central Maryland Workshop - January 28, 2019
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Baltimore County AG Center, Cockeysville MD 21030
Registration Information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingcmd
ALEI is a collaboration of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (“UMB”); the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park (“UMCP”); and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (“UMES”). ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, a collaboration between the state of Maryland’s two most powerful public research institutions: UMB and UMCP. It leverages the sizable strengths and complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s innovation economy, advance interdisciplinary research, create opportunities for students, and solve important problems for the people of Maryland and the nation.
Founded in 1999, the Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology is a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It provides leadership to promote environmentally sound and economically viable agriculture and forestry as Maryland’s preferred land use through research, outreach and collaboration.
Tool launched to aid in environmental practice decisions
QUEENSTOWN — A new website that helps communities make wise decisions to address their local water quality needs is now live online.
The website, baybmp.org, helps farmers, local governments, environmental organizations, community associations and the public navigate through the multitude of environmental best management practices available. The site is a compendium of best management practices used on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but the practices can be applied throughout the state and beyond.
Baybmp.org was developed by the University of Maryland Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, with funding from the Town Creek Foundation, after hearing concerns voiced by Eastern Shore government officials and staff at the 2015 Healthy Waters Round Table that there was a need for an understandable and comprehensive source of information on best management practices. Tom Leigh, a former Eastern Shore Riverkeeper who now serves as a circuit rider for several Eastern Shore municipalities and counties, authored its content.
“We wanted to make a tool that was accessible to non-experts charged with installing practices that both address nutrient management needs while solving local needs,” Hughes Center Executive Director Suzanne Dorsey said. “In the past, finding the right practice for your situation could be daunting. This website makes decisions easier.”
A best management practice, called “BMP” for short, is defined as a practice or combination of practices determined to be an effective means of reducing pollution generated by nonpoint sources (those caused by water moving over or through the ground, which pick up sediments or nutrients as it moves, eventually reaching local streams and the Chesapeake Bay).
On the website, best management practices are split into three main categories — agriculture, urban, and tree/forest practices. Each entry on a given practice overviews its function, level of implementation difficulty, average cost and potential funding sources, it’s efficiency to reduce nutrient loads, and maintenance information.
Users can search for particular practices in the site’s search bar, or browse categories and use a filter function, which further narrows results by price range, nutrient reduction, or locations where the practices are installed. The site also contains handy links to helpful external sites if users wish to dive even further into a particular practice.
“This compendium is intended to be a living resource for local decision-makers on the Eastern Shore and beyond. It is formatted as an interactive quick reference guide to provide insight to make well-informed choices about pollution-reducing practices to help the Bay,” Leigh said.
The compendium differs from other tools like CAST (Chesapeake Assessment Scenario Tool), which is designed for scientists and experts in the environmental field. It also differs from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tools used to quantify the value of local practices and determine how each state in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort is meeting their water quality goals.
“Whether you’re an elected official, government administrator, farmer, conservationist, or homeowner, you will find planning tips, scientific data, and financial suggestions about best management practices,” Leigh said. “Complete with local project examples, the information contained in this compendium should be consulted before committing resources toward the work still ahead of us to achieve clean water in our local creeks, streams and rivers.”
Best management practices can be implemented by a wide variety of entities, including private property and business owners, farms, local and state governments, and nongovernmental organizations. These practices vary widely in type and application. Installing them on land is one of the top ways to meet Watershed Implementation Plan goals, which are required as part of Chesapeake Bay cleanup. A state’s pollution reduction progress is measured based on the estimated effectiveness of the installed best management practices.
The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Maryland College Park and the University System of Maryland. Founded in 1999, the Center brings together diverse interest from the agricultural, forestry and environmental communities for the purpose of retaining Maryland’s working landscapes and the industries they support while protecting and improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Visit our website at agresearch.umd.edu/agroecol.
New podcast for Delmarva farmers now online
QUEENSTOWN, MD — A new podcast series called “From Cloud to Cab” aims to inform and entertain farmers on Delmarva and in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“From Cloud to Cab” is a collaboration between Jen Nelson, a Delaware-based agricultural consultant with Resource Smart LLC, and Josh Bollinger, communications coordinator with the University of Maryland Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology.
Nelson initially brought the concept to the Hughes Center. The idea is to provide farmers with a fresh and accessible platform to get information they care about while performing work around their farms.
“Some of the farmers I work with in my other projects had expressed interest in listening to a podcast about farming. It seemed like a great opportunity to offer an alternative format to getting information out there about soil health and nutrient stewardship in addition to the workshops and field days we already do,” Nelson said. “We can also have conversations about emerging markets and agronomy research.”
The podcast will offer news and differing perspectives on a wide variety of agricultural issues — from soil health to growing the ingredients for beer on Delmarva — and will feature conversations with other farmers, scientists, policymakers, agribusinesses and conservationists, highlighting the various practices farmers implement on their land.
“This podcast reinforces our message at the Hughes Center that farmers are environmental stewards of the land that sustains us,” Bollinger said. “We hope to provide an entertaining twist on how farmers receive information that benefits them, the environment and their livelihoods.”
The podcast is available for free download or streaming on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/from-cloud-to-cab. Apple users can download or stream episodes on iTunes, and Android users can download or stream it on Google Play Music by searching for “From Cloud to Cab” in their phone apps or browsers.
"From Cloud to Cab" is looking for feedback from farmers on topics they wish to hear about. For suggestions, contact Josh Bollinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jen Nelson at email@example.com.
Hughes Center, ALEI partners on SARE grant
BALTIMORE — The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law has been awarded a three-year, $159,380 grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (“SARE”) program. The grant will be administered by the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (“ALEI”) and Sarah Everhart, Senior Legal Specialist and Research Associate. The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology Inc. is a collaborator and subrecipient on the grant project.
SARE is a program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). The grant is from SARE's Professional Development Program, which provides training, grants, and resources for agricultural service providers to build their awareness, knowledge, and skills related to sustainable agriculture concepts.
The project will engage agricultural service providers from the University of Maryland Extension, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and nonprofits in a comprehensive education program about agricultural conservation leasing.
Through an informational webinar and a series of five regional workshops, the project will equip agricultural service providers with the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to educate and advise farmers and landowners on how to overcome the challenges of using conservation practices on leased land. According to Everhart, “agricultural service providers know that conservation practices are less prevalent on leased land but they currently don’t have any way to address the issue. This education series will give them strategies and resources to assist landowners and farmers in overcoming the challenges associated with implementing conservation practices on leased farms.”
ALEI is a collaboration of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (“UMB”); the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park (“UMCP”); and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (“UMES”). ALEI is an initiative of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, a collaboration between the state of Maryland’s two most powerful public research institutions: UMB and UMCP. It leverages the sizable strengths and complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s innovation economy, advance interdisciplinary research, create opportunities for students, and solve important problems for the people of Maryland and the nation.
ALEI was established to help preserve Maryland’s family farms and assist their owners in addressing the complicated legal issues associated with agriculture. Based in Queenstown, the Hughes Center provides leadership to promote environmentally sound and economically viable agriculture and forestry as Maryland’s preferred land use through research, outreach and collaboration.