Author Archives: Jim Baird

Jim Baird

About Jim Baird

Jim Baird is the Mid Atlantic Director at American Farmland Trust

Women Landowners are Committed Conservationists

Jen-Philipiak-Hay-Ride-blogAt the end of July on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, American Farmland Trust (AFT) convened a small group of women farm owners to share experiences with each other, expand their knowledge of conservation, and learn about innovative practices being tested by the University of Maryland.

With record numbers of women taking over ownership of farms across the country, AFT hosts these women’s learning circles in the Mid-West and now in the Mid-Atlantic. “Women landowners are committed conservationists,” said Jim Baird, the Mid-Atlantic regional director for AFT. “We want to provide a comfortable place where women, many of whom are new landowners, can come together to ask questions about conservation, and how they can get assistance.”
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What’s Risk Got to Do with It?: Encouraging On-Farm Conservation

Like any business owner or operator, farmers take careful consideration when making any changes to their operations. A change that may seem relatively simple to an outsider could require new equipment, more labor or a different response to heavy rain or drought. In the end the change may turn out to be a great success, but that is often difficult to be sure of at the outset.

Pennsylvania farm with pond.This balance of change, risk and opportunity cannot be overlooked when asking farmers to address environmental challenges in the Chesapeake Bay. Agriculture may be the leading source of nutrient run-off there, but it has also been the second largest contributor to the progress in cleaning up the bay. We have been working with farmers in the region to help advance this progress through our BMP Challenge, a risk management program that American Farmland Trust is implementing across the nation to encourage farmers to make conservation happen on-the-ground. (For more on the BMP Challenge, read my recent story about visiting a farm in Virginia.)

A recent study in Pennsylvania focused on how to address risk when the business of agriculture intersects with the need to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. . Here is what we found:

Risk Is Real

The National Academy of Sciences acknowledges the dilemma that farmers face in deciding how much fertilizer to use:

“Since (they) must make nitrogen applications without being able to predict weather and crop yields, the potential for being wrong is always present and will always occur in some years.”

Our data shows that reducing fertilizer on crops can result in decreased yields 40 percent of the time even with well-tested practices. Over time, these practices should pay off, but farmers cite fear of lost income as a major consideration when deciding whether or not to implement new conservation practices.

An Effective Way to Manage Risk

The BMP Challenge provides three helpful supports to farmers willing to take a chance:

1) Technical assistance from a certified agricultural consultant to help plan and implement the change

2) A comparison of the standard and the new practice on the farmer’s field so he or she can get experience using it and see the results

3) An income guarantee so that if a loss in profit is experienced, the farmer receives the difference

The Result: Widespread Adoption of New Practices

In Pennsylvania, we found that BMP Challenge participants report high satisfaction with the program, and 85 percent say that they have continued to use the practice or a modified form of it on their farm.

Looking Ahead

These results are an important step in addressing the risk that farmers face when adopting conservation practices. We believe that the BMP Challenge is an important new tool for farmers—helping them manage part of the risk they face in trying to be good stewards of the environment and successful small businesses at the same time.

Over the coming months, we will continue exploring how these results will impact the Chesapeake Bay and impaired water bodies across the country. Can we scale up our demonstrations to broader availability? Are there other ways to address “conservation risk,” such as emerging income opportunities like water quality trading that can help mitigate the financial risk of adopting water quality practices?


Jim Baird About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and en

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Mid-Atlantic: A Year of Progress

The Mid-Atlantic region is blessed with agricultural diversity, producing an array of food, fuel and fiber from Delaware to Virginia. The past year has been filled with both challenges and opportunities for farms and farmers. Inclement weather throughout much of growing season tested the patience of farmers across the region. State budget concerns brought discussions of conservation to the forefront, at times challenging critical efforts to protect farmland.

As we look back on another year passed, there is also much to celebrate. 2011 saw a remarkable mix of work undertaken to save the land that sustains us, including efforts across the region to protect valuable farmland resources and to safeguard clean water sources and clean up the Chesapeake Bay. We are proud of our work in the Mid-Atlantic and wanted to share a few highlights from the past year:

Farm fields and barns in MarylandHonoring a Farmland Preservation Hero

This year, we honored Robert Ambrose of Ridgeview Acres Farm with the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Local Heroes Award. The award recognizes his outstanding efforts to protect the farms, natural resources and waters of the commonwealth. Ambrose, who runs a 130-acre cut-flower farm with his wife Sally, has served as the chairman of the Westmoreland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board since 2001, which has preserved more than 10,960 acres of productive farmland.

Helping Farmers Protect Clean Water

Kevin Craun, who farms in the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia, is just one of many farmers working with American Farmland Trust to reduce fertilizer use and protect clean water. Craun has been working with us by experimenting with alternative soil sampling. This method guides his final fertilizer application, closely matching the crop’s need. By sampling so accurately, Craun and other farmers are reducing their fertilizer use—saving money and protecting their crop yields while helping the environment.

Expanding Our Work in the Chesapeake Bay with Corn Farmers

Through our Mid-Atlantic Clean Water Initiative to help farmers improve their conservation practices, we reached out to farmers and their crop advisors in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania to test effective practices that reduce fertilizer applications while maintaining crop yields. By working with farmers in the field and at the policy level, we made progress in reducing the amount of fertilizer flowing off farm fields and into waterways.

Rallying for Farmland Protection in Maryland

At the state level in Maryland, we galvanized the support of farmland advocates to ask the Maryland General Assembly to reject proposals that would negatively impact land conservation programs. As the Maryland General Session gets underway in January, we’ll need everyone who supports Program Openspace funding that protects farm and forest land and supports parks and recreation to make their voices heard.

A Look Ahead

As the calendar page turns to 2012, we look forward to more chances to work with our partners throughout the region to protect farmland, improve water quality and ensure a viable future for farms and farmers throughout the Mid-Atlantic. We will continue to do our best to turn the many challenges we face into opportunities by doing good work for agriculture in the region. We hope you stay tuned and keep in touch.


Jim Baird About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and en

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Working Together to Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay has been a major concern in the region for decades. Farmers in the bay region, which includes Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, manage nearly a third of the land in the watershed. As a result, farmers must play an important role in maintaining and improving the region’s water quality.

A key challenge in meeting Chesapeake Bay water quality goals is how to achieve the right balance between helping farmers voluntarily adopt management practices that reduce nutrient runoff and insisting farmers do so through regulations. Perspectives on how far to lean in either direction vary widely among different stakeholders.

Farm and farmland in Lancaster County, PennslyvaniaOne group that is striking this balance in Pennsylvania is the Lancaster County Conservation District (LCCD). The LCCD’s approach seeks to balance its role as the farmer’s trusted advisor and neighbor with its mission to conserve natural resources. The LCCD board voted to force landowners to comply with state conservation regulations at the local level, a move that only 13 other counties in Pennsylvania have taken. The decision was based on the rationale that conservation is achieved most effectively when a more local entity acts as a buffer between state or federal regulatory agencies and the farmers. LCCD has set 2015 as its target date to have conservation plans written for 100 percent of the county’s farms, with a clear and consistent system to verify implementation that includes penalties when necessary.

To balance voluntary on-farm management with regulation, LCCD works to include farmers in the compliance process. Robert Shearer operates a 700 hog and grain farm on 250 acres in Lancaster County and also serves on LCCD’s Ag Compliance Committee. On his own farm, he has been implementing conservation practices for years. He recognizes that his efforts help him meet production goals while complying with Department of Environmental Protection regulations. When the compliance committee occasionally needs to fine a producer who has not responded to multiple requests to fix a runoff problem, Shearer feels confident the committee believes that everyone must do their part to “keep the soil where it belongs.”

Key Recommendations for Bay Restoration from the Conference Participants:
  • Get everyone involved. There were many players involved in polluting the bay over the years, and there will have to be many players involved in cleaning it up. In an effort to get past finger-pointing, a number of projects are consciously bringing the homeowners, farmers and developers together to address the many sources of runoff. Collaborative projects to install a rain garden in the town center, or plant trees on a farm stream bank, help neighbors see their challenges are not so different and that collective action makes a difference.
  • Waste not, want not. The production of meat and dairy products for Mid-Atlantic urban markets is a vital part of the agricultural economy. But having many animals in the region means lots of manure—so much that farmers are running out of fields to put it on. But recent innovations in composting, methane digesters and renewable energy solutions show promise for turning the problem into the next renewable resource solution.

This week, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from Mr. Shearer on a field trip that was part of the Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Network Forum. This annual conference sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network brings together more than 30 grantees to share lessons learned from their work addressing water quality issues in the bay. The meeting of agricultural and conservation leaders demonstrated the passion and energy that people are bringing to bay restoration, from finding innovative ways to help farmers comply with conservation regulations to whole community approaches that stretch from farm-to-table.. The diversity of partnerships among grantees—representing ag groups, environmentalists, researchers, public employees and non-profits—is remarkable.

And those efforts are beginning to show positive results. The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) Cropland Report released in March collected conservation data from farms in the region, made recommendations on the 4.3 million acres of bay cropland, and found conservation practices implemented on about 96 percent of that land. More recently, a study from Johns Hopkins found a decline in dead-zones—the oxygen-starved regions resulting from waters rich in nitrogen and phosphorus where plants and water animals cannot live—indicating that conservation efforts by farmers and others are beginning to pay off.

However, our work is far from complete. Achieving clean water will require well-funded, robust federal and state conservation programs and additional guidance for farmers to help them get those practices in place. It is important to give farmers credit for what they have accomplished, and the gathering of leaders and experts on water quality in the bay presents continued hope for future work. But we all need to ensure that we invest enough attention and resources to finish the job.


Jim Baird About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and en

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Catching the “Slippery Fish” on the Farm and Doing Good for Water

When it comes to balancing a farmer’s need to grow healthy crops and preserve water quality, nitrogen—an important component of fertilizer—can be quite a “slippery fish.” Many factors influence how fertilizer cycles in and out of soil, water, plants and the air. The Nutrient BMP Challenge®, a risk management tool that American Farmland Trust is implementing across the nation to encourage on-farm conservation and reduce the amount of fertilizer flowing from farm fields into our waterways, helps address some of that risky behavior. We recently visited a Virginia farmer and BMP Challenge participant who pitted his wits against a special soil test to predict how much, or how little, fertilizer his corn would actually need.

Farmers use a range of techniques to determine the right amount of fertilizer to apply to their crop; some use high-tech tools, others apply a rule of thumb. The risk protection of the BMP Challenge offers farmers peace of mind when trying something new. The program reaches out to farmers who are interested in adopting conservation practices to reduce the amount of fertilizer used and help preserve water quality but who may be nervous about the risk to their crop yield. A number of these practices provide farmers with techniques to get a better handle on that slippery fish and to use fertilizer as efficiently as possible.

“Now is the Time to Protect the Land”

A BMP Challenge visit to Craun Farm in Virginia. (L to R: Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust; Matt Heldreth, Virginia Tech; Kevin Craun, Craun Farm; Jeff Cline, Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Our visit to Kevin Craun on his farm in the Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley helps demonstrate this process. We met him in the corn field that he enrolled in the BMP Challenge this year. Craun has been an active participant in various soil conservation practices and farmland protection for some time now. As we stood in his cornfield above the creek, he pointed out fencing he had installed along the stream to keep out his cattle.  A buffer of grass and trees varying from 50 to 100 feet in width protects the banks and can absorb nutrients that might runoff his filed in a storm. He is also participating in the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) on 40 acres of his property and has a conservation easement on additional sections of the property, which means that they can never be converted to development. He noted the assistance of American Farmland Trust when he and other community members were developing a farmland protection program for the county. “Now is the time to protect the land when the land prices are low,” remarked Craun.

Doing Good for the Water

Farm Advisor Heldreth prepares the soil sample to be combined with a solution that allows the available nitrogen level to be measured.

The purpose of our visit was to take a soil sample to determine how much nitrogen was in the field before Craun made the final application of fertilizer. This information would allow him to apply an amount closer to what the corn actually needed rather than following a fixed formula. Being more accurate in this way would not only benefit the environment, but would help his profits by not paying for more fertilizer than the crop could use. Matt Heldreth, who took the soil samples and testing along with Jeffery Cline, Nutrient Management Specialist with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is a senior at Virginia Tech and a farmer himself and noted that “techniques such as the PSNT (Pre-Sidedress Nitrogen Test) help farmers match their management to the needs of their individual fields, crop selections and whole farm operation, allowing them to do well economically while they do good for the water.”

As we left, Heldreth asked Craun how much nitrogen he thought his corn would need. “Well,” said Craun, squinting thoughtfully at the knee high plants nestled in the rolling hills. “Maybe 80 pounds?” Wouldn’t you know, the PSNT test agreed! The test and his experience came up with the same estimate for the amount of fertilizer to add to his soil.

As our work with farmers across the country using the BMP Challenge increases, we hope to continue to expand on-farm conservation practices and, in turn, work to preserve water quality in more and more critical locations. Conservation has both public and private benefits, which are being generated by the farmers themselves. And now, as our Virginia farmer put it, we need to “get the story out there of what farmers are doing.”


About the Authors:

Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

Delancey Nelson is a Marketing Intern with American Farmland Trust. She has worked on numerous farms and vineyards abroad and holds a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning from the College of Charleston. She is also the market manager of the Lauraville Farmers Market in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Celebrating Farm Conservation and Stewardship in Pennsylvania

Recently, we took the opportunity to recognize the valuable role that agriculture plays in protecting clean water in Pennsylvania. At an event on May 11, we celebrated our partnership with the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, which has reduced pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

(L to R) Jim Baird, AFT, DEP Sec. Mike Krancer, & Ag Exec. Dep. Sec. Mike Pechart (Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)

At our May 11 event, we had the pleasure of presenting 4,036 Certified 2010 Nitrogen Credits to Secretary Michael Krancer of the Department of Environmental Protection and Michael L. Pechart, Executive Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture. These tradable credits, generated by farmers in the Susquehanna Watershed, can be used by jurisdictions in the state to meet limits on pollution allowed in the watershed.

Agriculture is central to the culture and heritage of Pennsylvania. The vibrancy and passion behind efforts to protect farms and farmland in the state have deep roots, resonating beyond the fields to lawmakers and industry leaders,  local consumers and small business owners.

The story of farming is one about the men and women who work every day to grow the food we eat. But they provide so much more to us. They provide jobs—both on the farm and in the community—in processing, transportation, at farmers markets and grocery stores, and in other local businesses. Their work places—we call them farms— provide such beauty to the landscape that people travel to Pennsylvania just to see them.

These farmers are also stewards of the land that can protect our water, wildlife and air quality. Water quality is of particular interest in central Pennsylvania, where numerous rivers and other tributaries are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. While there are many threats to clean water, including industrial pollution, waste treatment plant discharge and urban run-off, certain agricultural practices also can contribute to water emissions.

But proven farm conservation practices—called best management practices—that many farmers already utilize are among the most cost-effective ways to help protect water. However, farmers face barriers to adopting these practices, including cost, concern about loss of income, lack of guidance or financial assistance, and a lack of clarity on the exact requirements for implementing the practices. We work in a number of ways to help farmers address these barriers to improving their land stewardship. Our BMP Challenge, an innovative risk-management program, allows farmers to test, on their own land, practices for reducing fertilizer run-off. We’re also helping establish water quality trading markets that allow famers to earn a profit from pollution reductions on their land, which typically cost less to implement than equivalent reductions made by industries or urban communities. Our program in Pennsylvania is designed to bring these two innovations together.

Since 2006, participating farmers in our BMP Challenge in Pennsylvania have collectively reduced fertilizer applications significantly, keeping about 60,000 pounds from running off their fields and into the Chesapeake Bay. We recently worked with eight farmers and the Department of Environmental Protection on a “trial run” to see how well the department’s system for calculating credits functions and to determine if a trading market could financially benefit farmers who adopt conservation practices that reduce both fertilizer and sediment run-off. At our May 11 event, we highlighted the success of the pollution reduction efforts of Pennsylvania farmers and the partnerships needed to move these much needed farm conservation practices forward. We also recognized that these efforts are not only about stewardship, but also about the economics of maintaining thriving agricultural enterprises. Supporting a viable future for our farms will ensure our continued access to abundant, healthy food; a connection to the roots of our history and culture; jobs and a solid base for our rural communities; and clean water, today and in the future. That is certainly something we all can celebrate.


Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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Working Lands and Conservation: Chesapeake Bay States Close a Decade of Effort and Head to the Future with Renewed Vision and Energy

The first decade of the 21st century has ended and with it, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia passed a major milestone for the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. The regional agreement acknowledged the crucial role land conservation plays in the Bay’s water quality and set a goal to protect 20 percent of the farm, forest and ecological land area in the watershed.  In just 10 years, the states have preserved 7.26 million acres!

In 2010, as part of its Executive Order on the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration developed a new goal in consultation with the Bay states. Together, all six states making up the Bay watershed—including Delaware, New York and West Virginia—will work to protect an added two million acres.  Farmland and working forests will be a major portion of this conservation goal.

For American Farmland Trust, these objectives affirm our long-held assertion that well managed farms provide not only economic, cultural and historic benefits—including food, of course— but environmental ones as well.  The Executive Order highlights the fact that protecting land, including working farmland, is a key component of the effort to clean up the Bay. And EPA documents pertaining to the Bay’s new regulatory structure assert that farmland is the preferred water quality land use. Not only does farmland contribute less pollution acre-by-acre than densely populated areas, it provides the opportunity for more cost-effective pollutant reductions than sewage plant upgrades or urban storm water retro-fits.

A new report, Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes, conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Conservancy, highlights this decade’s land conservation accomplishments, focusing attention on successful programs and policies that helped to achieve the target milestone as well as the urgent need for new innovations and continued financial support. Echoing another hallmark of our approach, the report emphasizes that keeping farms economically viable as farms, and not as potential development sites, is crucial for saving the land that sustains us.

Our success in saving working landscapes requires efforts to assure that the farm and forest economies along with the tens of thousands of jobs they provide are supported with adequate infrastructure … access to tech­nical assistance and government support programs. (pg 17)

Efforts to preserve working farms and forest lands will fail unless the economy can support their long-term viability. (pg 17)

Farm viability means keeping farms in farming. This means that if farmers are going to adopt conservation practices, they need to have confidence that their business will retain profitability.  That is why we are working with federal and state conservation agencies to provide farmers an opportunity to test new practices “risk free” by guaranteeing their income for a trial period with our BMP Challenge. Farmers in the Chesapeake have saved more than 130,000 pounds of fertilizer from flowing into the Bay in the last two years under the program and we are beginning new initiatives in other impaired watersheds like the Mississippi River and Long Island Sound.


Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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