$$$$ For Farm Improvements
(first printed in the April 2011 Equiery)

For those planning to improve their farms, there are many enticing federal and state cost-share programs that will enable you to improve your land, improve some of the structures on your land, reduce your negative impact on the enviroment, and provide you with the cash to do all of the above. Whether or not one agrees with these taxpayer-funded initiatives is irrelevant for the purposes of this article, as the point is that your tax dollars are funding these cost-share programs, and if you have horses on your property, you might be eligible.

None of these programs are “free money,” mind you. They all come with conditions. You have to agree to install and maintain something on your property that will meet the overall program goals of improving the watershed. Generally, the requirements are not onerous (although filling out the forms may be tedious).

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a Federal-state conservation partnership that pays landowners attractive land rental rates to voluntarily take environmentally sensitive crop and pastureland out of production for 10 to 15 years and plant streamside buffers, protect highly erodible land or establish wetlands to protect the water quality and wildlife habitat of local streams.

CREP was redesigned in 2009 to help landowners make the most of marginal cropland and pastureland by simplifying program requirements, increasing land rental rates, and offering a one-time signing bonus of up to $200 an acre. In addition, the new CREP offers up to an 87.5 percent cost-share, a one-time incentive payment worth 40 percent of the total cost of installing certain practices, maintenance payments and a permanent easement option. For landowners with expiring CREP or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, the new program offers easy re-enrollment at attractive rates and a $100-per-acre state signing bonus.

Sign-up for CREP is ongoing until acreage goals are met. Interested farmers should contact their Soil Conservation District or Farm Service Agency to apply.

What is the difference between CREP and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)?
CREP is an option under CRP that focuses on placing conservation practices on environmentally sensitive cropland and pastureland. CREP generally provides landowners with higher annual land rental rates and added incentive payments. The same parcel of land may not be enrolled in CREP and CRP at the same time; however, CRP participants with expiring contracts may be eligible to enroll their existing practices in CREP.

Who is eligible for CREP?
For horse owners, marginal pastureland next to a stream may also be eligible for certain practices. Participants must have either owned or operated the farm or ranch for 12 months prior to enrollment.

What conservation practices are eligible for CREP?

Farm operators can earn extra farm income by taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production for 10 to 15 years and planting forested streamside buffers, grassed streamside buffers or conservation cover. Farm operators may also earn extra income by protecting highly erodible land, promoting certain wildlife species, or establishing wetlands to safeguard local streams.

What are the enrollment period options?

Highly erodible land and shallow water practices have contract lengths of 10 years. For all other practices, the participant has the option of choosing contract lengths ranging from 10 to 15 years.

When will the contract begin?

Contracts begin the first day of the month following the Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee’s approval of the contract. Applicants may defer the contract start date for up to six months.

Are CREP contracts transferrable?

Contracts are transferrable if the land is sold or inherited and the new owner agrees to the terms of the contract.

What types of payments will I receive?
Five types of payments may be available depending on the practice installed. These include: signing bonus, annual rental payment, cost-share assistance, practice incentive payment, maintenance payment.

All payments, including cost-share, are considered income. Participants should consult their tax adviser on reporting requirements.

May I hay or graze my CREP land?

Haying or grazing is not permitted on most CREP land. Managed or emergency haying and grazing may be performed with prior authorization on lands that are enrolled because they are considered highly erodible. Specific restrictions apply and the participant must accept a reduction in the annual rental payment.

Can marginal pastureland practices be used adjacent to ditches or channelized streams?

Marginal pastureland practices must be immediately adjacent and parallel to a perennial stream, nonchannelized seasonal stream, or permanent water body, including certain wetlands. Check with the soil conservation district or FSA for specific requirements.

What are the buffer widths along channelized streams and ditches? What conservation practices are cost-shared?
Filter strips along channelized intermittent streams and ditches must be 35 feet wide. Channelized perennial streams are eligible for the full suite of practices and buffer widths.

May I extend my riparian buffer up to the 250-foot maximum for additional wildlife benefits?
Yes. You may be eligible to extend the buffer by installing practices that meet an approved wildlife establishment and management plan for a specific group of at-risk species approved for CREP (riparian species or shrubland birds and pollinators).

Is it possible to have a CREP contract and a CREP easement at the same time?

Yes. In fact, you must be enrolled in CREP before you can sell or donate a CREP easement. See the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ brochure on CREP easements or visit conservemd.org.

How do I enroll in CREP?

Sign-up for Maryland CREP is ongoing until acreage goals are met. Contact the local Soil Conservation District or county Farm Service Agency to enroll in the program. Additional information on CREP is available on FSA’s website: www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=cep.

• Attractive, steady rental income
• One-time signing bonus of up to $200 an acre
• Up to 87.5% cost-share for most practices
• One-time incentive payment worth 40% of the total cost of installing certain practices
• Maintenance payments
• Easy re-enrollment of expiring contracts at new incentive rates
• Permanent easement option

• Cleaner, healthier waterways
• Erosion and flood control
• Healthier conditions for livestock
• Habitat for wildlife, fish and game




Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program

The Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program provides farmers with grants to cover up to 87.5 percent of the cost of installing conservation measures known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) on their farms to prevent soil erosion, manage nutrients and safeguard water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Grassed waterways constructed to prevent gully erosion in farm fields, streamside buffers of grasses and trees planted to filter sediment and farm runoff, and animal waste management systems constructed to help farmers safely handle and store manure resources are among more than 30 best management practices currently eligible for MACS grants.

In 2009, Maryland approved over $130,860,000 (using state and Federal monies) in MACS projects.

MACS will fund a wide range of projects on horse farms, including but not limited to the following:

Waste Storage Structure
For manure pits, sheds, and the like; the state loves ‘em…hates manure piles because of the runoff.

Critical Area Planting
For the planting of trees, shrubs and grasses on highly erodible or critically eroding areas such as gullies, banks, or critical slopes in order to stabilize the soil for the reduction of runoff reaching the state waters.

For excavating a channel across a slope with supporting ridges on the lower side, for the purpose of protecting slopes from erosion and preventing pollutants such as animal waste from reaching the waters of the state. Includes channels, dikes, subsurface drains, pipes, chutes, underground outlets, leveling, installation of effective vegetative systems (such as grass) to protect diversion; removal of obstructions to facilitate installation of diversions.

For installing permanent fencing that will keep horses out of streams or highly erodible areas; you might be eligible for a few cost-share dollars to help defray the cost of that pretty four-board.

Riparian Herbaceous Cover
For “herbaceous vegetation” (i.e., grass) buffer strips of land between pastures and streams (or between terrestrial and aquatic habitats, in government-speak).

Grade Stabilization Structure
For the purposes of diverting clean water runoff around your waste storage structure (among other things).

Grassed Waterway
For when you need to grade or shape the land to “safely convey water across areas of concentrated flow” for the purposes of preventing erosion and protecting the quality of the watershed. This may include fencing and subsurface drains.

Lined Waterway or Outlet
For installation of concrete pipes or other “erosion resistant linings such as stone for the purposes of providing a more permanent, erosion resistant lining for areas subject to runoff from other erosion control practices or from natural concentrations of flow.” (Doesn’t it sound like, if you were do to one erosion control project over here, then you create a problem over there that then needs to be solved?)

Roof Runoff Structure

For collection, control and disposal of runoff water from roofs to divert water away from animal waste, for the purpose of preventing roof runoff from causing water quality problems.

Heavy Use Area Protection

For installation of bluestone dry lots as a way to encourage us to move our horses off the pastures when they are wet. Dry lots are also quite handy for fat ponies, founderers, and lay-ups.

Spring Development
For improvement of springs and seeps by excavating, cleaning, capping or providing collection and storage, for the purpose of improving or increasing the quantity of water for livestock in order to control soil erosion; this must be in conjunction with installing a “watering facility.”

Stream Crossing
For stabilization of areas that provide access for livestock and pasture maintenance farm equipment to cross a stream or ditch; to control bank and streambed erosion, reduce sediment and enhance water quality by controlling livestock “instrusion” (direct quote!) in the waters of the state.

Watering Facilities and Water Wells

For improving or deepening a well used for livestock, installing a cistern, enhancing springs for troughs or tanks that will help keep your horses out of streambeds, minimize erosion, and help to improve the quality of Maryland’s water; you might be able to get some cost-share funding.


How To Apply for $$$$

You can contact your local Soil Conservation District, but The Equiery has learned that more and more excavators are becoming proficient in helping their clients navigate through their cost-sharing options, so you can also check with your favorite excavator.

What is a Soil Conservation District?

The Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs) of Maryland are a political subdivision of the state. They work with local, state and Federal authorities as well as the private sector to address each county’s soil and water conservation needs.

The districts are a self-governing body, administered by a Board of Supervisors. The supervisors are private citizens who are aware of the local environmental concerns and qualities. They are appointed (one appointed by the county; one by the Cooperative Extension Service; one by Farm Bureau and two at-large) to serve five-year terms in their SCD.

District operations are directed by the board and carried out by the staff.

Grants from the state and county and proceeds from special district programs account for the district’s income.

Through the local Soil Conservation District, local landowners and residents have access to technical services that help them in installing a full menu of soil conservation practices that reduce erosion and improve water quality.

Housed within the walls of each Maryland Soil Conservation District are soil conservation professionals from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as local conservation educators and managers. The concept is to bring together all the various agencies and parties with a stake in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the world’s largest estuary.

The Soil Conservation Districts are not regulatory agencies. Their aim is to enhance farming operations while helping to conserve our valuable soil and clean water. They also assist local residents in finding financial help in the installation of best management practices that protect water quality.



Maryland’s 24 Soil Conservation Districts


Allegany................301-777-1747 ext. 3
Anne Arundel........410-571-6757
Baltimore County.410-527-5920 ext. 3
Calvert...................410-535-1521 ext. 3
Caroline.................410-479-1202 ext. 3
Carroll....................410-848-8200 ext. 3
Catoctin.................301-695-2803 ext. 3
Cecil.......................410-398-4411 ext. 3
Charles..................301-934-9588 ext. 3
Dorchester.............410-228-5640 ext. 3
Frederick...............301-695-2803 ext. 3

Harford......................410-838-6181 ext. 3
Kent...........................410-778-5150 ext. 3
Prince George’s......301-574-5162 ext. 3
Queen Anne’s..........410-758-3136 ext. 3
St. Mary’s..................301-475-8402 ext. 3
Somerset..................410-651-1575 ext. 3
Talbot........................410-822-1577 ext. 3
Washington Coun...301-797-6821 ext. 3
Wicomico.................410-546-4777 ext. 3
Worcester.................410-632-5439 ext. 3


© The Equiery 2011