Sussex Conservation District approves cost-share funding for cover crops, tax ditches

New program to promote oyster aquaculture gets green light
September 8, 2023

The Sussex Conservation District board of supervisors voted Aug. 22 to approve funding for its annual cost-share programs involving cover crops and tax ditches. A new program to increase participation in oyster aquaculture also was authorized.

“Just over $4.6 million in funding for the cover crop program is available to reach a goal of 80,000 acres of cover crops to be planted in Sussex County this fall,” said Debbie Absher, SCD director of agricultural programs.

The cover crop program received 287 applications, with more than 185,000 acres enrolled. This year, producers enrolled an extra 2,500 acres in the cover crop program compared to the previous year.

“This program is a win-win for everyone. Our producers benefit from increased soil health, and our waterways are cleaner because cover crops hold soil and nutrients in place over winter,” said David Baird, SCD district coordinator.

Many farmers are already realizing the benefits of planting cover crops through increased soil health and organic matter. Over time, this leads to better soil structure and stability, as well as nutrient cycling and moisture-holding capacity. These properties improve water quality by increasing nutrient uptake and improving infiltration while reducing erosion and sediment runoff. Producers also report lower operating costs after implementing cover crops.

Funding for SCD’s cover crop cost-share program is provided by the Delaware General Assembly through the Delaware Department of Agriculture – Nutrient Management Commission, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control – Conservation Cost Share Program, Non-Point Source Program and Chesapeake Bay Programs, and Sussex County Council.

Tax ditch funding OK’d

The SCD board also voted to approve the annual tax ditch cost-share program funding, totaling $772,000.

“Tax ditches are a critical drainage infrastructure for much of the county, and many ditches date back to the 1950s. Routine maintenance is necessary to ensure they continue to function as designed,” said Joel Wharton, SCD board chair. “We are fortunate to have the support of Reps. [Jesse] Vanderwende [R-Bridgeville] and [Ronald] Gray [R-Selbyville] to lead efforts to add an additional $500,000 to the program this year.”

Sussex County has more than 135 tax ditch organizations that cover over 1,200 miles, providing drainage for 340,000 acres of land. Approximately 60% of Delaware’s tax ditch miles are located in Sussex County, and 42% of the county relies on drainage provided by tax ditches. Tax ditches are a governmental subdivision of the state.

The tax ditch cost-share program received 260 applications totaling more than $772,000. All applications for mowing, maintaining right-of-way access, and spraying to control woody or invasive vegetation were approved. Maintenance applications, which include dip outs, erosion repair, new pipes, crossings or replacements, tree removal, erosion repair and beaver dam removal were also funded.

Funding for SCD’s tax ditch cost-share program is provided by the Delaware General Assembly through the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and by Sussex County Council. To learn more about DNREC’s Tax Ditch Program, visit

Oyster farming boosts water quality

Joining the other approved cost-share programs is a new effort to increase oyster aquaculture in Sussex County. This program will provide an incentive payment per harvested oyster to fund nutrient reductions in the Inland Bays watershed.

A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. With almost 300 acres available to lease in the Inland Bays watershed, this program has the potential to remove over 70,000 pounds of nitrogen from the bays. These nutrient reductions help Delaware meet its water-quality goals.

“We recognize that our region is unique; farmers are not limited to growing crops in the soil, but also in our waterways. Our goal for this pilot program is to increase oyster aquaculture farming in the Inland Bays watershed and improve water quality,” said Baird.

Applications for the oyster aquaculture cost-share program will be accepted year-round. Cost-share payments will be made quarterly, at $0.05 per harvested oyster, with a maximum annual payment for 150,000 oysters totaling $7,500.

For more information about these cost-share programs, call 302-856-3990, Ext. 3, or visit

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