Scientific Research

Scientific Research

Since its founding in 1999, the Center has funded more than 70 research projects totaling more than $10 million in funding. The research findings provide decision-makers at the federal, state, and local levels with science-based guidance on important topics such as:

  • The use of the enzyme Phytase in poultry feed to reduce phosphorus levels in manure
  • Ways to improve the federal Conservation Security Program (“green payments”)
  • Protecting Maryland’s investment in land preservation through supportive local zoning and compatible transportation policies
  • The use of downzoning as a tool to preserve farmland
  • An economic assessment of the forestry industry in Maryland
  • Identifying alternative crops and niche markets to help farmers who wish to transition from traditional commodity crop production
  • Designing riparian buffers to maximize environmental benefits
  • Enhancing the economic development of resource-based industries on the Eastern Shore
  • Creating a blueprint for an effective TDR program based on other successful models
  • Identifying the presence and effect of endocrine disrupting compounds in poultry litter

Current Agriculture Research

Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment

Phil Gottwals (top right), with ACDS LLC who authored the Center's upcoming foodshed study, sits on a panel comprised of (from left) Tom McDougall, founder and CEO of 4P Foods; Lindsay Smith, Regional Food Systems Value Chain Coordinator for COG; and Ona Balkus, Food Policy Director for the District of Columbia. The panel was featured at the Greater Washington Regional Food and Ag Supply Chains Movement Summit hosted by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments on June 24 in Washington, D.C.

The Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment, a project commissioned by the Center to better understand the complexities and opportunities provided by the changing nature of the region’s food system, was completed in summer 2019.

Phil Gottwals with Agricultural and Community Development Services, LLC was commissioned to provide an in-depth study of the current state of the sectors that compose the food system including producers, processors, distributors, and consumers. Phil was joined by former Center board member Dr. Christine Bergmark and Joe Tassone, principal investigator for the Center’s earlier research projects on local foods.

Data as well as Information gathered through interviews and community listening sessions provided the team with a clear understanding of factors that are currently working well and areas that need improvement and provide opportunities.

The study examines a subdivision of the Chesapeake Watershed that serves as a proxy for assessing the demographic, human capital, agricultural and supply chain dynamics for the larger geography.

The study area consists of 82 counties and independent cities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. It represents about 40 percent of the 206 counties and independent cities, 78 percent of the population, and 63 percent of the 11.2 million acres of agricultural land in the entire foodshed. In addition to covering a diversity of soil types, hardiness zones and production types, it includes key production and infrastructure clusters for livestock, poultry, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops.

The report’s findings revealed that stakeholders within each of the Chesapeake Bay food system’s sectors shared common values that could be built upon to improve the system to better serve communities and address specific socioeconomic objectives.

Preliminary areas of opportunity include suggestions to:

  • Strengthen community and culture around food;
  • Promote networked solutions to regional food system develop;
  • Create a Chesapeake Regional Food System “brand” and unified certification system;
  • Tailor agricultural education, workforce development, and farm transition programs to the future;
  • Support an entrepreneurial and innovation culture in the supply chain; and
  • Identify or create an entity to serve as a regional coordinator of local food system development projects.

Read the Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment here

Saltwater Intrusion

Dr. Kate Tully performs work related to her saltwater intrusion research. (Photo by Edwin Remsberg)

This study, performed jointly by the University of Maryland, George Washington University, the University of Delaware and Resources for the Future, deals with a phenomenon called saltwater intrusion, or when saltwater from the Bay or ocean moves into groundwater. As saltwater infiltrates the groundwater, it can change the chemistry of the soil, which can have devastating results for forests and farmland.

The research aims to determine the extent of saltwater intrusion in the study area and its effect on soil health, and the role it plays in washing away nutrients built up in the soil, which ultimately affects Chesapeake Bay water quality. The study will also look at how to ameliorate the resulting stress on crops.

“One of the reasons why saltwater intrusion is particularly pernicious is because the outcomes are really challenging to predict, especially when you are dealing with agricultural land, where some of the nutrient histories and legacies are buried in the soil and they aren’t unlocked until you have this interaction with saltwater,” said Dr. Kate Tully, a principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of agroecology with the University of Maryland.

The study takes a regional approach, targeting Dorchester and Somerset counties, which are not only two of the more vulnerable locales on the Eastern Shore for sea level rise but are also among the poorest in Maryland. Targeting regions struck by poverty, an objective of the study is to generate new and emerging, sustainable agricultural markets for salt-tolerant crops in these particular counties.

The Hughes Center is funding part of this research with a $126,913 grant, for the aspect of the study that looks at ameliorating salt stress. A broader objective of this study is also being funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Multi-Species Cover Crops

This research through the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts aims to promote the benefits of multi-species cover crops. The Hughes Center is fully funding it at $31,900.

The Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost Share (MACS) program has been funding traditional, nitrogen sequestering cover crops, for farmers planting them in the fall for many years now. Cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from a preceding summer crop and work during the winter to prevent erosion.

While the benefits of these traditional cover crops to water quality have been proven and promoted for many years, the economic and soil health benefits of multispecies cover crops have not traditionally been highlighted through the cover crop program. Multispecies cover crops have not been funded until recently, and there is still a financial incentive given for non-mixes of cereal rye.

The proposal hypothesizes that there are economic, environmental and soil health benefits to be realized by farmers planting multispecies cover crops not solely intended for nitrogen uptake. By understanding how benefits like nutrient management and farm profitability can be optimized, Maryland farmers will continue their status as national leaders in conservation farming practices.

Principal Investigator Lindsay Thompson plans to demonstrate an economic benefit of planting multispecies cover crops through five case studies, with a goal to increase multi-species cover crops plantings throughout Maryland.

Nutrient Optimization

This research, titled Optimizing Nutrient Use and Reducing Loss in Crop Production Systems in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, is being performed by University of Maryland Associate Professor Dr. Gurpal Toor. It is being funded for two years at $249,000.

The project seeks to optimize nitrogen and phosphorus use and reduce the nutrient losses in crop production systems. This will help devise a strategy to reduce nutrient runoff to receiving waters with best management practices that keep the nutrients in the plant root zone.

Currently, there is a lack of research on nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics in crop production systems. Optimizing nutrient use in Maryland’s agricultural lands is needed to reduce the cost of farming and ensure a healthy Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Following the research findings, the researchers in collaboration with the Hughes Center, Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, and UMD Extension will enter into a period of outreach and education, targeting farmers, commodity and environmental groups, state and federal agencies in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Enhancing Soil Organic Carbon

This study, Assessing the Effectiveness of Soil Health Practices in Enhancing Soil Organic Carbon in Maryland, will be conducted by University of Maryland Associate Professor Dr. Gurpal Toor, Colorado State University Professor and Nobel Laureate Dr. Keith Paustian, and UMD Post Doctorate Yun-Ya Yang. It is being funded by the Hughes Center for three years at $400,252.

An ultimate goal of this study is to strengthen the science of measuring and tracking soil carbon. This has been a noted need in soil science recently in order to maintain and optimize soil health to sustain farm productivity and protect the environment.

In Maryland, policy in a 2017 bill defined a need in Maryland to develop local capacity to measure and track organic carbon in soil, as part of a larger promotion of soil health programs and practices.

Investigators of the Hughes Center-funded study will:

(1) collect, collate and analyze existing (but disparate) data on impacts of agricultural management practices on organic carbon storage and soil health;

(2) collect new on-farm measurements and lay the foundation for a long-term soil monitoring/measuring network in Maryland;

(3) test and refine state-of-the-art decision support systems to aid farmers and land management agencies evaluate their best options for increasing organic carbon in soil and soil health; and

(4) provide training and outreach on using these tools to the full range of stakeholders.

Current Forestry Research

Forestry Stewardship

Funded at $150,000 over three years, this project is a collaboration between Principal Investigator Jonathan Kays of the University of Maryland Extension in collaboration with Agnes Kedmenecz, also of UM Extension, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Director Craig Highfield, and Don VanHassent with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service.

The overall goal for the project is to ensure engagement between the green industry and the forest products community to improve the health of Maryland’s increasingly fragmented forest landscape.

According to the proposal, 85 percent of woodland parcels in Maryland are from 1 to 9 acres in size, a trend caused by continued parcelization of the landscape. The lack of conventional forestry assistance and a focus on amenity-based objectives requires a new approach to enhance forest health and encourage woodland stewardship.

The project will utilize the capacity of the University of Maryland Extension in cooperation with Virginia Cooperative Extension to create a forest health checklist and land care practices manual that can be used with training for green industry professional and volunteer organizations. Interested businesses will be included on a web-based list of service providers and marketed to clientele. Follow-up with surveys will verify impacts and case studies developed to highlight sharing.

Past Research

Agriculture Policies


Production and Productivity

Alternative Crops

Cover Crops

Niche Markets

Nutrient Reduction



Chesapeake 2000 Land Preservation Commitment


Land Use Tools

Forestry Research and Assessment

Land Use and Growth Management

Nutrient Reductions

Population Change and Impacts on Rural Areas

Water Supply