Nearly half of Maryland farmers who responded to a recent survey had reduced their use of fertilizer and pesticides in the past three years and had put aside an average of 67 acres per farm for conservation uses such as wetlands, woodlands, lakes, streams, and ponds.
The Maryland Farm Bureau undertook the survey to gain baseline information about voluntary conservation practices undertaken by farmers — many of which are not tracked by government agencies — and to help show the public that farmers are working to protect the environment, said Dennis Stolte, the Farm Bureau environmental resources specialist who coordinated the survey.
“After being out on the farms in Maryland, it was clear there were a lot of good management practices commonly used on Maryland farms that I didn’t think were recognized by the non-farming public,” Stolte said. “If you get out on the farms in Maryland, you get an idea of how far ahead of producers nationwide Maryland farmers are with their use of conservation practices.”
For example, the survey found that conservation tillage — which helps reduce erosion and runoff from fields — is practiced on 55 percent of Maryland’s cropland compared with an estimated national average of 35 percent.
The results came from a survey the Farm Bureau mailed to the state’s 15,232 farmers. About 15 percent of the total, 2,145, responded. Together, they represent a quarter of the state’s 2.2 million acres of farm land.
Nonetheless, the Farm Bureau said the data appeared to be statistically valid as survey results in areas for which data is available corresponds closely. For example, the proportion of farmers who indicated they have developed nutrient management plans (18 percent) is close to the state Department of Agriculture’s number (14 percent).
“Beyond the public relations side of it, I think there was a need for good data,” Stolte said. “And with respect to many voluntary practices, this is the best data that’s available now.”
The survey found that farmers routinely use soil testing on 60 percent of all cropland. Soil tests help farmers optimize their use of fertilizer and reduce the potential for runoff. Nearly half of the farmers, 45 percent, said they had reduced their use of fertilizer during the past three years. Half said their fertilizer use had remained the same, and 4 percent said it had increased.
Also, 52 percent of the respondents said they had adopted some practices that helped reduce the need for pesticides, such as scouting fields for problem pests, using natural predators and other biological controls, or using tillage practices that reduce the need for chemical controls. More than half, 55 percent, said they had reduced their use of pesticides during the past three years. Only 1 percent said their pesticide use had increased.
When asked the most important reasons for using good conservation practices, 35 percent cited reduced production costs, 34 percent said concern for stewardship and environmental quality, and 31 percent said increased yields.
The farmers responding to the survey, who collectively manage 511,485 acres of farmland, reported putting 27 percent of their land to some kind of conservation use. That total, 143,127 acres, is an average of 67 acres per farm.
Farmers reported setting aside 34,479 acres for wildlife habitat, 4,309 acres for streams, lakes and ponds, 9,823 acres for wetlands, and 94,519 acres for forests or woodlands.
The survey was conducted by the Farm Bureau with technical and financial support from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The survey was developed with input from farmers, agricultural agencies, and environmental groups.