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For Release: Friday, April 7, 2023

New York State Announces Funding to Protect Water Quality and Soil Health Around the Finger Lakes

Cover Crop Initiative Safeguards Watersheds in Finger Lakes Region

Builds on State's $12.2 Million in Cover Crop Investments Since 2010

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) today announced $370,000 for the Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative. The initiative helps support farmers' use of cover crops to reduce erosion, implement watershed management plans, and protect water quality in and around the 11 Finger Lakes: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Clean water is critical to the health and safety of our communities across the Finger Lakes and is being reinforced by the State's record investments in water infrastructure and effective efforts like the Cover Crop Initiative. Few groups understand the critical importance of conserving our natural resources and combatting climate change's impacts better than New York's farmers. With this funding and the strong support of county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the State will continue helping the agricultural community protect the environment and preserve soil and water quality in the Finger Lakes."

AGM Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "I'm proud that agriculture is at the table in the work that New York is doing to combat climate change, which includes our record investments in clean water. Keeping our waterways clean ensures our communities have access to safe drinking water not only today, but in the generations that follow. This cover crop initiative will bolster our efforts to protect our precious natural resources and provide help for farmers to develop more sustainable operations."

Cover crops are an excellent best management practice which promote soil health and protect water quality. Common cover crops planted in New York State include rye, oats, wheat, radishes, peas, clover, and sunflowers. The crops, which are typically planted in late fall following the harvest of traditional plantings, improve soil health for the spring. Cover crops also help reduce erosion and runoff, absorb excess nutrients, filter surface water and protect groundwater, add organic matter to soil, reduce weeds, combat pests, and sequester carbon dioxide emissions in the soil.

New York State Soil and Water Conservation Districts work with farms in these watersheds to implement cover crop projects. This work is an expansion of the highly successful Eastern Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative which implemented nearly 5,000 acres of cover crops between 2018 and 2021.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts from Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Onondaga, Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins, and Yates counties will use the state's Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) framework to plan, implement, and evaluate cover crop projects. Funding will be made available to farms to incorporate cover cropping into their annual crop planting systems. For farmers who are interested in learning more about cover crop implementation, please contact a local county Soil and Water Conservation District.

State Soil and Water Conservation District Committee Chair Dale Stein said, "Cover crops are a leading best management practice used to protect water quality. By having a growing crop on the fields as close as possible to 12 months a year, runoff is greatly reduced, and the cover crop takes up excess nutrients to protect our world-renowned water resource in the Finger Lakes. This DEC funding is another critical step toward helping our farmers transition to climate-safe practices that protect the health of our soils and our waterways and combat climate change."

The expanded Finger Lakes Cover Crop Initiative builds on the State's efforts to safeguard natural resources. At the direction of Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State has been working with Soil and Water Conservation Districts, as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension to build and expand farmer-led soil health coalitions and promote policy changes to improve the health of land and water.

Funding for the grant program is provided by the State's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Governor Hochul's 2023-24 Executive Budget sustains the EPF at a historic $400 million. The EPF provides funding for critical environmental programs such as land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention and eradication, enhanced recreational access, water quality improvement, and an aggressive environmental justice agenda.

The State's Agricultural Nonpoint Source and Abatement Control Grant Program and its Climate Resilient Farming Program also promote the use of cover crops and soil health on farms. Since 2010, these programs have funded $12.2 million for 547 landowners who contributed $6.2 million in cost-sharing funds for cover crops across more than 200,000 acres of New York State farmland.

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