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Welcome to the Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Newsletter. 

The Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Project provides new farmers with resources and contacts to be able to explore enterprise options, refine ideas, develop plans and strategies, and implement their farming practice. 

Each month our newsletter features events, training and resources to support farming initiatives throughout the state.  Plus, a Beginning Farmer Success Interview Series that spotlights and celebrates Maryland farmers, industry professionals, and projects that aim to support Maryland agriculture and Beginning Farmer Success!

In This Issue: 
  • Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Course: Open Registration

  • USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program: Extended Application Deadline

  • AgBiz Masters: A deeper dive into business and financial management skills

  • 1st Annual Maryland Mushroom Growers Symposium
  • December Events, Workshops and Webinars

  • Save the Date: Maryland’s Best Buyer/Grower Expo

  • New ALEI and Hughes Center Online Agricultural Conservation Lease Builder Tool

  • Agricultural Business Tax Exemptions - 5 min read

  • Farmer Spotlight & More!

Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Course 2023



Are you considering starting a farm or expanding your farm business? 

The Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Course is designed for people in Maryland who are considering or in the beginning stages of starting a farm as a business. Topics covered will include business planning, marketing, crop production, livestock husbandry, soil health, pest management, food safety, and regulations and certifications. Additional elective resources will cover more specialized topics, such as organic production, urban agriculture, and direct marketing to local customers. Students will learn from over 14 speakers, including agricultural Extension educators, farmers, and agricultural industry professionals.  Reserve your spot today!

 When: Thursdays, February 2 through April 6, from 7pm to 8:30pm. 

 Where: A blended in-person and online course. Two of the ten sessions will have an in person option, which students may attend at one of the following locations:

• Baltimore County Ag Center, 1114 Shawan Rd, Cockeysville, MD

• Baltimore City Extension Office, 6615 Reisterstown Rd, Suite 201, Baltimore, MD

• Montgomery County Fairgrounds, Heritage Building, 501 Perry Pkwy, Gaithersburg, MD

• Charles County Soil Conservation District, 4200 Gardiner Rd, Waldorf, MD

For students who cannot attend in person, an online alternative will be held on Zoom at the same time and date as the in-person sessions.

Topics covered:

  • Marketing

  • Financial planning

  • Soil health

  • Licenses, permits, and certifications

  • Food safety

  • Integrated pest management

  • Acquiring land and zoning

  • Specialty crops

This course is offered with a registration fee of $65 plus Eventbrite fees. 

If the registration fee is a financial barrier, please fill out this scholarship application:

Please register online at

so that we can hold your seat for the Beginning Farmer Success Course. 

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, award number 2021-49400-35619.

If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any event or activity, please contact Neith Little by phone at 410-856-1850 x 122 or by email at



USDA Regional Food Business Centers

USDA Extends Regional Food Business Centers Application Deadline to Dec. 15. 

Details of Extension

AgBiz Masters

Young & Beginning Farmers:

From Horizon Farm Credit:

If you're looking for a hands-on educational program that tackles the questions and challenges you have about managing your agricultural business, AgBiz Masters is your answer. AgBiz Masters is a learning series where participants complete online modules, along with face-to-face regional seminars. The program is targeted at young and beginning farmers in Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania,  Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. 
Learn More:

1st Annual Maryland Mushroom Growers Symposium

1st Annual Maryland Mushroom Growers Symposium

DECEMBER 6, 2022

9:30 AM - 3:00 PM

This is a professional development symposium designed for specialty mushroom growers. This event is organized by the Urban Agriculture Program of UMD Extension and sponsored by Horizon Farm Credit.

The agenda is currently being finalized. Speakers and training topics will include:

Dr. John Pecchia, Penn State University, Director - Spawn Laboratory and Manager – Mushroom Research Center. Commercial mushroom production.

Yolanda Gonzalez, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Urban Agriculture Specialist. Lessons learned from NYC specialty mushroom education program.

Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland and Agricultural Law Education Initiative, Extension Legal Specialist. Legal steps to form a professional association.

Support services offered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture

Neith Little, University of Maryland Extension, Urban Agriculture Extension Educator, Mushroom market research case study

And more to be announced soon!

Thanks to a generous sponsorship by Horizon Farm Credit, we are able to bring in out-of-state experts and provide a tasty lunch for only a nominal registration fee of $12 plus eventbrite fees. Register


December Events, Workshops, Webinars and Tours


December 1, 2022
Northern Maryland Field Crops Day
Upperco, MD 

December 1, 2022
Cultivating Conservation Workshop


December 1, 2022
Cattle Health Management - CALVING (Western Maryland)

Garrett College Outreach Center

December 3, 2022
Cattle Health Management - CALVING (Central Maryland)

Central Maryland Research and Education Center (CMREC)

December 6, 2022
Cattle Health Management - CALVING (Eastern Shore)
Wye Angus


December 6, 2022
Private Applicator Recertification - Carroll County                                                      University of Maryland Extension-Carroll Co. Office
Please call the office at 410-386-2760 to register for a session. Please notify our office 2 weeks in advance if you need reasonable accommodation to participate. 

December 7&8, 2022
Produce Safety Rule Grower Training (Hybrid)


December 9, 2022
Poultry Grower Meeting 

December 13, 2022
Maryland Beef Webinar Series: Wintering Bulls & Cows

December 13, 2022
USDA webinars on improvements to insurance programs for small diversified farms

USDA Risk Management Agency  is offering workshops for agricultural producers to learn about the latest updates and improvements to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) and the Micro Farm  insurance options. These workshops are especially important to specialty crop, organic, urban, and direct-market producers. The Roadshows will include RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger and other team members to highlight and answer questions about these insurance options.
Not a UME program, organized by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Agency

December 14, 2022
Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture
Wednesday Webinar: Understanding Property Purchase Agreements

Save The Date


Maryland’s Best Expo Scheduled for January 10

Opportunity for Maryland Farmers, Seafood Producers, 

and Processors to Connect with Buyers

This year’s event will be held in the “N Room” at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, 550 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis. Registration is required. The deadline to be included in the expo directory is December 9, 2022, and the last day to sign up is January 6, 2023. There is a $25 fee for a table display space. There is no fee for buyers, but they must register.

January 21 GAP Training Prince George’s County, Details TBA


Online Agricultural Conservation Lease Builder Tool

ALEI and Hughes Center Launch Online Agricultural Conservation Lease Builder Tool
The University of Maryland’s Agriculture Law Education Initiative and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. recently launched the Agricultural Conservation Lease Builder to aid farmers and farm landowners, throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, to create agricultural leases. The Lease Builder is an online tool that guides users through questions about the farm and conservation practices to generate a customized draft lease with suggested provisions to support those practices. The tool is intended to support farmers and farm landowners to protect business interests, encourage environmental stewardship, and support on-farm conservation practices.
Check out

The Lease Builder has easy-to-answer leasing questions, including the selection of  common on-farm conservation practices – to generate a customized draft lease with  suggested provisions to support those practices. 

Funding for the site was made possible by the Keith Campbell Foundation for the  Environment. 

Questions about the Lease Builder, contact Sarah Everhart:

Agricultural Business Tax Exemptions

USDA Programs Info Sessions - Learn about funding opportunities & free resources:

Farmer Spotlight

University of Maryland Extension talked with Luis Dieguez, the District Manager at the Charles Soil Conservation District (CSCD), and Jerry Spence, a Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) Agricultural Resource Conservation Specialist and Conservation Planner to learn how the Soil Conservation District helps farmers identify resource concerns and implement conservation best management practices on their land. 

Beginning Farmer Success Interview Series 

This series spotlights and celebrates Maryland farmers, industry professionals, and projects that aim to support Maryland agriculture and Beginning Farmer Success! 

Q: What is the Charles Soil Conservation District, and how does the District help farmers identify and implement conservation best management practices on their land?   


A: Luis Dieguez: The Charles Soil Conservation District is a complicated network of agencies working together. Along with Soil Conservation District personnel, Maryland Department of Agriculture personnel and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service personnel work here together to plan and implement conservation practices. For starters, we have a planner that would go out to a farm to assess the land and determine what practices are needed. Here on the CSCD farm Jerry Spence was the individual who assessed our land and determined what we needed to install as far as the applicable best management practices. 

Jerry Spence: We were fortunate here when the District purchased the property in 2017; many conservation practices were already installed. The prior owner had installed forest buffers along wetlands and streams, so we maintain those areas. We did find resource concerns; the primary one was a gully erosion issue in one of our larger fields. So a few years ago, we installed a grass waterway. The soils here are somewhat poor, probably poorer than average for the county, so we recommend and require our tenant to apply cover crops in the fall to help stabilize the soil and improve it long term. We have a very basic crop rotation plan. Cover crops play an important role, but we don't have the same crop planted repeatedly. Crops planted in our rotation are primarily annual hay crops, sorghum-sudangrass, pearl millet, and cover crops. One of our challenges is that we have extremely high deer pressure, so for instance, we can't plant soybeans here effectively.

To review, we've installed the grass waterway and installed stabilization on that waterway and mulching to establish it. We've implemented cover crops and crop rotations, nutrient management, and no-till farming. All the crops we plant in the field are planted using  no-till methods with a planter or a drill. Our soil hasn't been tilled for at least six years, and we hope to continue that into the future. Those are our practices. 

Q: Would you give us a tour of the conservation practices implemented here onsite at the CSCD farm, and tell us how to identify resource concerns?

# 1: Conservation Best Management Practices: Cover Crop, Crop Rotation and No-Till Planting Methods

A: Jerry Spence: So we are out in the field now looking at the ryegrass cover crop planted around the 10th of October. It was planted to capture excess nutrients left behind from the sorghum-sudangrass hay crop harvested for livestock feed. Also, the reason we use cover crops here is to try to improve soil health. Along with the nutrient capture, the cover crop also improves soil structure because the roots of the growing plants always help improve soil structure and soil aggregation. 

We have a couple of issues on this site. Historically, there was land use that was difficult for the soil. In southern Maryland, we had hundreds of years of tobacco cultivation that caused soil erosion. Also, there was mining on this site at one time, so the soil has been degraded quite a bit. We're trying to use these cover crops to capture nutrients, improve soil structure, and increase organic matter.

One of the problems we have here is compaction. When we go out into a field and look at soil, we often find compacted soils. Several problems cause this. The biggest one is infiltration. If you can't infiltrate the water, you have run off. That runoff causes erosion somewhere else. Also, when the water runs off the soil, it's not going into the ground to be utilized by plants, reducing the available water plants need to grow. Reducing compaction is one of the most important things you can do on a farm. Cover cropping and no-till planting methods are among the best ways to alleviate compaction over time.

To demonstrate using a pin flag, I have to put a fair amount of pressure on it to go through the soil. I'm encountering resistance near the surface, probably at about three inches, and then it's soft again. So even though we've been using no-till and cover crops for six years on this site, we still have a compacted layer at about three to six inches. This is because the previous farmer probably would have tested the soil and worked up the top few inches, but in doing so, compacted the next three or four inches below it. Cover crops and no-till farming will alleviate that compaction. We will have better water infiltration into the soil, leading to better plant growth and, finally, better organic matter and soil over time.

Q: How do these best management practices support meeting water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

A: Jerry Spence: The cover crops, in particular, scavenge nutrients. So if this nutrient isn't scavenged, it will be lost to the environment. Much of that nitrogen will be leached out into the soil profile and cause nutrient loading downstream. So the cover crops are important because they hold that nutrient over winter when the other plants aren't growing. When that cover crop decomposes in the spring and summer, some of that nutrient release can be used by the next cash crop.

#2 Conservation Best Management Practice: Grassed Waterway

Jerry Spence: We're now standing in a grassed waterway. We installed a grassed waterway a few years ago to remedy a gully erosion problem in the field. We had an area of concentrated flow from the parking lot of the Agricultural Service Center upslope of the field. Water congregated, ran off the parking lot, and then came down through the field, causing erosion. So we installed a grassed waterway using tall fescue to convey the water downslope safely. Its sole mission is to move the water downslope without causing gully erosion. Our technical staff designed this waterway and helped install it by being here and checking grades during installation. It's still a fair stand, but we need to overseed it with some more tall fescue to thicken it up. So far, it is holding very well. 

Luis Dieguez: We faced the same dilemma any new farmer might face. Of course, we had technical personnel on-site, but we did what we would do with anybody else. Just assess the land and give them the best practice that is applicable. 

#3 Conservation Best Management Practice: Grade Stabilization Structure

Jerry Spence: This is our grade stabilization structure. As I mentioned before, we had gully erosion in the field. Frequently there is also gully erosion where the field stops and a hedgerow or a woodland starts. Here we have a head-cutting gully moving out of the woods towards the field. Because of this, we typically put some stabilization structure at the end of a grassed waterway. Here we installed a grade stabilization structure so the water can cross over this site, which is a slightly steeper slope, and not cause more head-cutting in the gully at the base of the grassed waterway. We don't want the water to continue to encroach up into the field to the grassed waterway. In other words, The grade stabilization structure is an anchor at the bottom of the grassed waterway, preventing the water from cutting a gully further into the field. We used a class one stone designed to handle the flows that come off the waterway, they helped heal that gully at the base. 

Q: Can you help our readers visualize this process? 

A: Jerry Spence: You can see the slope angle here at the stabilization structure is steeper than the grassed waterway; this is so you can convey the rest of the water down to where the ditch or swale is stable. There was a gully about three feet deep, and this gully was cutting up the field. So we put the grassed waterway in to convey the water downhill safely. The rock at the bottom portion of the grassed waterway is called grade stabilization because it stabilizes the grade from erosion.  

Q: Does the Grade Stabilization slow the water flow? 

A: Jerry Spence: It doesn't slow the water much. It conveys it further downslope. It prevents the water from scouring the gully, causing more erosion and creeping back up the grassed waterway. It does spread the water out and helps dissipate the velocity because of the roughness of the actual stone. The water is a bit turbulent as it goes through the stone, which will slow it from going so quickly down the slope. But more so, it conveys the water safely downslope to a place that is not eroding. That's the idea of it. 

Q: How would farmers plan for conservation best management practices?

A: Jerry Spence: The first step is to call their local Soil Conservation District and ask for a conservation planner to come out and visit their farm. We can assess the farm and look at different research concerns that may be onsite. Also, we can better understand the farmer's goals. It is important to include the farmer's goals in the conservation plan.

In our case, we realized that the previous owner prioritized buffers. The only problems we saw here were that there wasn't a very effective crop rotation, there wasn't cover cropping, and there was a gully in this field. So we moved to remedy all the situations through the conservation planning process.

Luis Dieguez: When working with a farmer, our goal is to have them participate in a soil conservation water quality plan that our staff would design for them. One of the things that we want to stress to them is that it's a voluntary document we would like for them to have developed for their property. 

Jerry Spence:  It's all voluntary conservation beginning back in the 1930s with the creation of the Soil Conservation Districts. 

Q: How much do practices like these typically cost to install? 

A: Jerry Spence: The cover crop costs around $50 an acre for the farmer to install yearly, give or take, $10 depending on how they source their seed and the equipment they use. Crop rotation helps pay for itself because there is always a yield advantage. So this is a practice every farmer should use because you get a slight yield bump by rotation crops. Crop rotation pays for itself over time. 

When you talk about structural practices, like grassed waterways and grade stabilization, there's a lot of variation in cost across the state. With the current inflation, the installation can be rather expensive to install.

This grassed waterway and grade stabilization is relatively typical and costs us around 12 or 13 thousand dollars. That was about four years ago, and prices are up probably 20-30 %. 

Q: What is the typical time frame for installing these practices? 

A: Jerry Spence: If you need a conservation or water conservation plan, you're looking at six months from when you call the district. If you have a plan in hand, it will depend on how complicated the practice is. We generally work on a first-come, first-serve basis. We're more or less fully staffed now, so if you have a six-month planning process, you're looking at a nine-month technical design process. For agronomic practices, the only limit is the equipment and the access to resources you have or don't have. We have many agronomic practices that are installed, including cover crops that you plant year after year. So we have yearly practices and practices that have longer lifespans. The forest buffer is essentially there permanently.

Q: Are there financial assistance programs or incentives for farmers who want to implement conservation best management practices on their land?

A: Jerry:
Yes. There is often a misconception that you just apply for grant money, which is different from how to properly think about conservation planning. You need that resource assessment upfront. 

You need that conversation with the conservation planner to figure out your goals, and the planner can also figure out what resource concerns your property has. We go to farms that don't have many resource concerns, and there's no need for major conservation or structural practices. The opposite is also true. Sometimes we go to farms, and we find gullies everywhere. Typically, we assist farmers interested in applying for conservation grants for some of the structural practices. But that's really a second step after the conservation planning process is completed. We document the resource needs, concerns, and practices in the conservation plan, and then we help the farmer look for financial assistance. 

There are multiple programs out there with multiple acronyms. The important thing to remember is that there is typically federal and state funding for structural conservation practices if needed.

So there is help for farmers to install these practices. For Charles County, visit or visit your local Soil Conservation District to learn more. 

Q: What should a new farmer look for when identifying land for agriculture while keeping soil conservation and the best management of Natural Resources in mind?

A: Jerry Spence: If a person is looking for farmland, I recommend finding a farm field. Generally speaking, if it's woodland in Southern Maryland, it's not very well suited for agricultural use. If it's an open field, it's previously been viewed as having some agronomic value. That's a pretty good assessment because 95% to 99% of the area in Charles County that was cleared was because it met some use for agriculture. Whereas the wooded areas, generally speaking, are less useful. Try to find open land first. It's much more challenging to clear wooded land in the long run. It might be a bit more expensive to buy crop land on the front end, but by the time you put all the effort into converting from forest land to cropland, the costs go through the roof. 

So for someone looking at a few properties, they're trying to assess where they may want to purchase. I recommend they check out Web Soil Survey. It's a web-based GSI system and relatively easy to use. You can locate your parcel, draw a polygon around the parcel you're considering, and clip off the soils that are mapped in that area. And the Web Soil Survey has tools to show you the surface texture, the subsurface texture, the agricultural suitability, the percent sand, silt, clay, and the slopes typical for that land unit. All kinds of valuable information you need to know when considering if you want to farm a parcel or not. If you're going to plant a crop that needs well-drained soil, you're not going to choose certain soils to purchase.

So your first step is to view the property for sale through the eyes of the Web Soil Survey to see how suitable it is for your intended use. For example, if you want a tree farm, certain trees will only grow well in well-drained soils. So you want to avoid purchasing a farm that has poorly drained or somewhat poorly drained soil because you're going to set yourself up for failure right from the beginning. Ask yourself, is the parcel suited for agriculture? And if so, how suitable? The USDA has labeled all the soils to give them capability classes. Class one through class seven. Generally speaking, you will consider class one, two, and three soils better for agriculture. 

Luis Dieguez: I want to stress the importance of contacting your local Soil Conservation District. They can put you in touch with the right people and send you down the right path to getting the needed resources. Jerry's emphasis on the Web Soil Survey is something you can probably find on every Soil Conservation District website. It is a USDA program that's extremely useful.


Top photo: Grade Stabilization Structure
Bottom left: Jerry Spence (L) Luis Dieguez (R) looking at Cover Crop
Bottom right: Grassed Waterway

The University of Maryland Extension strives to provide the most current research-supported, environmentally friendly methods for growing food, ornamentals, livestock, and native plants in Baltimore City and throughout the state.

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