Efforts to control runoff pollution and protect wildlife habitat on the Delmarva Peninsula, the heart of the region’s intense poultry industry, will get a $5 million boost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced in March that the Bush administration this year would make the money available—in addition to other Farm Bill funding—to help improve water quality and protect the Chesapeake Bay.

“This funding will help protect farmland and wildlife habitat, restore freshwater and tidal wetlands, as well as support the economic viability of agriculture in this region,” Veneman said.

The 2002 Farm Bill allows the USDA to direct funds toward ecologically and economically important agricultural areas. Both Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, have sought to target additional conservation funds to the region.

The Delmarva Peninsula contains about 1.7 million acres of farmland. The concentration of livestock, sandy soils, flat topography, intense agriculture and development pressures have combined to threaten the natural resources, environmental quality and overall economic viability of the region, according to the USDA.

Water quality monitoring shows that rivers in the Delmarva Peninsula have generally shown little improvement in recent years and nutrient concentrations have worsened in some areas.

“Improving the quality of the Chesapeake Bay is the top environmental priority. This additional funding for Delmarva will provide much needed conservation resources to Maryland’s agricultural community,” Ehrlich said. “The additional resources being provided by USDA support our efforts to improve conservation while also ensuring that farms remain economically viable.”

The money will allow more farmers to participate in three programs:

  • The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, which provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep ranch and farm lands in agricultural use;
  • The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, a voluntary program that provides technical support and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to landowners who want to improve fish and wildlife habitat; and
  • The Wetlands Reserve Program, a voluntary program that helps landowners protect, enhance and restore wetlands on their property.

Maryland will get nearly $2.9 million in additional funding for nine Eastern Shore counties; Delaware $1.7 million for three counties; and Virginia $35,200 for two counties.

“The rich rural heritage, forests, fish and wildlife of the Delmarva Peninsula are dependent upon sustainable agriculture,” Gilchrest said. “This is a significant step toward supporting on-the-ground projects that will benefit our producers, Chesapeake Bay and coastal water quality and the protection of these lands.”