Feature- Farmer Partnerships Benefit The Chesapeake Bay
Agricultural run-off is widely recognized as the largest contributor to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that reducing this type of run-off is the most cost effective way to reduce Bay pollution, and farmers – who rely on the health of the environment for their livelihood- are often willing partners in the effort.
The other good news: through the federal Farm Bill, government agencies, and foundations such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funds are available for farmers to improve operations on farms.
Around the watershed, CBF scientists and restoration specialists are partnering with local Conservation Districts, various agricultural and conservation organizations, and farmers to make the most of these funds with hands-on restoration projects and by piloting innovative programs geared towards improving water quality.
For instance, in Pennsylvania, under a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, CBF staff and partners helped implement precision dairy feeding on 70 Pennsylvania farms.
As part of this Conservation Innovation Grant, our staff worked with dairy producers and their nutritionists to monitor and adjust the nutrients in the dairy cow feed. The goal was to keep cows healthy while minimizing the nutrients in their manure, which in turn minimizes nutrients ultimately reaching the Bay. Milk production and herd health were maintained on all farms, and some saw significant improvements through dietary adjustments.
Many farmers benefited from a reduction in feed costs, and the Bay benefited from fewer nutrients reaching the Bay. University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension were also valuable partners in this effort.
In another project supported by a grant from NFWF using funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CBF staff and hundreds of volunteers worked on farms in Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to restore natural buffers.
When strategically planted along stream banks and drainage areas, natural buffers such as trees and grasses are powerful natural filters, serving a vital role in reducing nutrients reaching the water.
With this as a guiding principle, CBF staff and project partners provided technical and financial assistance as well as manpower to landowners adding trees and other natural buffers to their property.
Working specifically in the Antietam Creek, Monocacy River, Opequon Creek and Rocky Marsh watersheds, CBF volunteers restored acres of forested riparian buffer, miles of stream bank, and acres of wetlands. They also helped fence livestock out of streams, keeping manure out of tributaries and helping to protect grasses and trees growing there.
In another project, CBF began working with plain sect farmers in Pennsylvania to improve conservation practices on their farms. Plain sect farmers include Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite farmers. Such farmers own over half of the farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and a significant number in Chester County’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Use of agricultural best management practices is limited in these communities because funding for these types of improvements often comes from the government, and many plain sect farmers are hesitant to accept such funds. Building on existing relationships with Amish and Mennonite farmers, CBF and our partners are beginning to work with dozens of farmers and will ultimately help implement conservation practices on roughly 50 farms.
These practices include conservation planning, prevention of runoff from barnyards and animal concentration areas, no-till farming, planting cover crops, and forested stream buffers. In these and many agricultural projects around the watershed, our partner organizations’ staff work side by side with CBF to provide advice and technical help to farmers.
With valuable partners, and support from these agencies, CBF is able to help farmers take advantage of programs designed to help them—funds that in 2008 we worked so hard to win in the federal Farm Bill and continue to fight for through enhancements to the Clean Water Act. These projects not only have an immediate impact on groundwater and water quality and ultimately Bay health, but also provide models for other farms in other areas of the watershed to follow.
Reprinted from Save The Bay magazine, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
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