Category Archives: Water Quality

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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Farm and Food News 11/11/11

A place where veterans and nature connect

A restored ranch in Washington state is providing a retreat for nature-loving veterans with disabilities. Thanks to many grants and funding opportunities, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, the protected land is safeguarding wildlife habitat while also providing a place for veterans to enjoy the outdoors.

Addressing farmland loss in the Pacific Northwest

Washington’s Puget Sound region, like many other parts of the country, continues to face farmland loss due to development pressures. The work of organizations, like PCC Farmland Trust, made possible through farm bill programs, is helping to protect farms and farmland in the region.

Trajectory of farm bill negotiations remains unknown

Federal farm policy helps shape what is grown; where, when and how the land is farmed; and who benefits from this production. The 2012 Farm Bill process is being greatly impacted by the federal budget deficit reduction negotiations, the results of which have yet to be revealed.

Peanuts and pecans go up in price

When you are reaching for pecans or peanut butter to make your favorite holiday dessert, you may notice a sharp increase in price. Peanut growers in Georgia and Texas, and pecan farmers across the Southeast, have experienced a severe drought this past summer. However, Virginia peanut farmers are experiencing a robust harvest this year.

Georgia schools to test farm-to-school program

Three counties in Georgia have enlisted their school systems to serve a minimum of 75 percent Georgia-grown food to their students for a full week. The program will run in the spring and will include guest chef and farmer presentations, while seeking to increase healthy eating habits for elementary school students.

Finding community in a farm and food hub

In Worcester, Pennsylvania, farm and food advocates are working to create a food hub through the Longview Center for Agriculture. The organization’s model—which is finding ways to connect members of the community to the land—offers farmers the opportunity to produce food on small plots of land.

Central New York meetings to address agriculture plans

Farmland protection plans are the topic of discussion at a series of upcoming meetings in central New York. The towns of Nelson, Cazenovia and Lincoln are working together to prepare Agriculture & Farmland Protection Plans, guided by steering committees of local farmers, officials and other landowners.

Study finds water quality in Chesapeake Bay is improving

A new study released from Johns Hopkins University study “efforts to reduce the flow of fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants” is benefitting the health of the Bay.

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Farm and Food News 11/4/11

Policy Changes Proposed for Next Farm Bill

Proposals for the next farm bill are rolling out across the country. This week, American Farmland Trust released our recommendations for the 2012 Farm Bill. Additionally, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) premiered his proposal for the next farm bill.

Maine Woman Returns Home to Save Farm

At 48 years old, Penny Jordan returned to her family’s farm in Maine, diversifying farm products and projects. She is not alone among the next generation of farmers seeking to address the projected 400,000 acres slated to change hands in the state over the next decade. Maine Farmland Trust recently released a guide to help individuals and communities address the concerns over land transition.

New Resource for Fresh New England Produce

Students at Colby College in Maine have created a new resource for getting local fresh produce from within the New England area. Their program is based entirely online.

Drought Conditions Continue to Hit the Southwest

Farmers and ranchers in the American Southwest are finding new ways to nourish their animals and keep their crops alive under worsening drought conditions. Where in some cases, a hay shortage is the biggest challenge, others are working tirelessly to bring in water.

National Conservation Survey Begins

The 2011 National Resources Inventory conservation Effects Assessment Project survey is underway through the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The program will be visiting farmers throughout the country from November 2011 to February 2012, seeking to capture the effectiveness of on-farm projects and programs working to protect water, air, and soil quality, including work in the Chesapeake Bay. . In fact, a recent study released by The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science showed that efforts to reduce runoff from agriculture into the Chesapeake Bay appear to be boosting the Bay’s health.

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How I Got Into Conservation: A Lifelong Journey

Note: John Stierna recently received the prestigious Norman A. Berg Conservation Legacy Award, given by the National Capital Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in advocating the conservation of soil, water and related natural resources, and whose service and accomplishments have made widely recognized contributions to the development of leading edge technologies that serve conservation at any geographic area, while working in the Washington, D.C., area.

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

As a boy, I always loved my family’s farm: the outdoors, the fields of hay and oats, the woods, and the gentle stream that flowed across the farm and emptied into Grave Lake in Minnesota’s Itasca County. The farm work, while strenuous, was still fun to a lad in his teens. We were fortunate. We never had the dust storms they had out in the west. Nor did we have very much visible sheet or rill erosion since many fields were planted to alfalfa or clover. Even the oats or wheat helped provide ground cover after sprouting—thus reducing the impact of rain. However, the manure from our dairy cattle clearly provided a risk of runoff that could have adverse effects on the stream and the lake. I started to get the feeling that we could do something more to protect the stream and lake, but I also felt that any effect from our one farm would be minimal since few other working farms were in our immediate area.

John with Oliver 1995

John Stierna (left) with Uncle Oilver Juntunen (right) 1995

After college and graduate school, I became engaged in private sector research and then water policy for the National Water Commission – work that me closer to policy aspects of both water quality and water quantity. When I joined the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) I quickly realized that the collective impact of millions of farms on the environment would be substantial over the longer term, yet any adoption of conservation practices would be on a much more localized basis—farm by farm. A real need existed to have tools to influence private landusers to adopt measures that could protect the land and waters on site and those beyond the farm boundaries. The economic evaluations often showed the need for some incentives to offset costs to help producers install suitable conservation systems.

Over the years, I was able to become more and more engaged in policy analysis that has helped bring forward some of the conservation policies and programs to make that happen. From early work on the Resources Conservation Act activity when Norm Berg was Chief of the old SCS, to later work on the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Conservation Security Program and the conservation title of several Farm Bills— these efforts all added to the suite of programs that can assist farmers and ranchers in addressing resource concerns on their farms and better protect the landscape.

Wow. This was a far cry different than the ideas I had as a lad on the farm. But sometimes it takes many years to evolve thought and concerns into workable policies and programs. Persistence over time is something that both Norm Berg and I have shared during our careers. Norm, who played a critical role in the beginning of agricultural conservation in the United States, was a committed conservationist throughout his life. I feel honored to have worked with such a distinguished professional as Norm.


John StiernaAbout the Author: Stierna has more than 45 years of experience in natural resources and agriculture as an economist and policy analyst in both the public and private sectors. He has provided significant leadership for economic analysis, policy formation and legislative analysis during his career with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington, D.C., and he now serves as a natural resource policy consultant for American Farmland Trust

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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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Keeping Water Clean and Farmers on the Land

Farmers are some of our nation’s greatest environmental stewards. This notion is exemplified in New York State, where farmers are part of a globally significant effort to provide clean, unfiltered drinking water to more than nine million residents of New York City. This success story is providing incredibly clean water to millions of people and saving city residents billions of dollars annually by avoiding the costs of constructing and operating water treatment facilities.

Success in the New York City Watershed is due in part to farmers protecting their land and managing it as a natural water filter in the watersheds surrounding the city’s reservoir system. Critical to the environmental health of the New York City watershed is the millions of dollars invested by New York City in farms. These investments have permanently protected more than 15,000 acres from development and put in place stream buffers and other conservation practices on thousands more. Such public investments are important to solving water quality problems. But while protecting the environment can be an additional cost to farm families, many farmers are not compensated for providing clean water, wildlife habitat and other environmental benefits enjoyed by the public.

At a time of tight budgets at all levels of government, public funds that help farmers protect and steward their land are under threat of being cut severely or eliminated. How can the farm community be a part of solving water quality challenges at a time of such uncertainty about farm profitability and public conservation dollars?

This is exactly the type of question that we seek to answer for the Owasco Lake Watershed, one of New York’s Finger Lakes. Owasco Lake serves as a filtered drinking water source for approximately 55,000 people. Roughly 55 percent of the watershed surrounding the lake is in agricultural use and Owasco Lake has historically been one of several Finger Lakes with water quality problems.

Some of the water quality concerns are due to run-off entering the lake from agriculture, but that is not the only source of pollution. Other activities of concern include the over-fertilization of lawns along the lake shore and tributaries, poorly functioning septic systems, improper disposal of yard waste and the overwintering and nesting of waterfowl.

Creating a Conservation Blueprint

We’re documenting current efforts by farmers to protect water quality while identifying barriers keeping farmers from taking further steps to protect drinking water. Through the study, we will also develop strategies to help farmers do more to protect Owasco Lake while still making a living from their land. Our “conservation blueprint” for the watershed will be released later this summer and focuses in four areas:

Issue 1: Need for Further Research and Guidance on Conservation Issues

Issue 2: Barriers to Adoption of Conservation Practices

Issue 3: Public Perception of Farm Practices

Issue 4: Loss of Farmland to Development

Recommendations to address these four challenges are focused on Owasco Lake but can provide lessons for the rest of New York where farmers are major players in the landscape. Looking forward, our efforts to engage farmers in protecting drinking water will require us to overcome boundaries between agencies and coordinating efforts while providing farmers with timely solutions to the full range of conservation challenges they are facing. Funds from conservation programs will continue to be important, and we will be challenged to ensure they’re used in a way that maximizes the benefits to farmers and the general public. Swift action is also needed to stop the continued loss of farmland from sprawling development, which has plagued New York’s rural landscape for decades.

The quest for cleaner water will continue to challenge the farm community and the many agencies and organizations working with them. But ultimately, it will challenge all of us to ensure both a healthy environment and a strong farm economy.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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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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An Everyday Approach to Improving Water Quality

Each year, the world comes together to recognize the importance of our fresh water by commemorating World Water Day. This year’s theme, “Water for Cities,” highlights the pressures that development places on our resources, a concern that is certainly familiar to farm fields in the United States.

A significant amount of our best farm and ranch land is near expanding cities where it’s threatened by sprawling development. Once this productive land is gone, it can’t be brought back. The ripple effect is tremendous and the impact stretches from our rural landscapes to our most populated city centers. When farmland is lost to sprawl and paved surfaces, we also lose the role it can play in helping protect water quality. Well-managed farm and ranch lands protect wetlands and watersheds, can help absorb and filter wastewater, and provide groundwater recharge.

That’s why we work with farmers across the United States to help them implement management practices that can improve water quality. These Best Management Practices, or BMPs, offer farm-friendly solutions to encourage better land management that, in turn, helps to protect and improve water quality.

By enrolling in our BMP Challenge program, corn farmers have implemented practices that reduce tillage and the amount of fertilizers used on a portion of acres in their farm. Through direct involvement with the BMP Challenge program, participating farmers have implemented improved practices on nearly 18,000 acres across the country.  This has resulted in more than 430,000 pounds of fertilizer and sediment prevented from running off into rivers and streams!

Furthermore, farmers indicate that they are implementing the practices on additional acres in their farm operation after participating in the BMP Challenge program. These efforts are helping to provide even more environmental benefit to our rivers and streams.

World Water Day is an opportunity to celebrate the great strides we have made and we’ll continue our work toward improving water quality each and every day. We recently signed on to the Charting New Waters pledge to protect clean water and with your help, we can reach our goal for 54,000 households making their own commitment to improve water quality.


About the Author: Brian Brandt is Director, Agriculture Conservation Innovations Center at American Farmland Trust.

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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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The New Political Landscape – Farm Policy Implications

The 2010 midterm elections brought significant changes to the makeup of Congress.

In the House, the Republican Party gained 63 seats to take a 242 to 193 majority, while in the Senate, the GOP gained five seats, narrowing the Democrat majority from 53 to 47.

The November results also brought a change of leadership at the House Agriculture Committee, where Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) has taken over from outgoing Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).

United States CapitalShortly after the election, in a webinar presented by the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson & Miller (“Election Results and the Agriculture Committees”) former Staff Director of the House Agriculture Committee Bill O’Conner pointed out that, “Chairman Peterson had wanted the farm bill in 2011, and incoming Chairman Lucas had never been very excited about that, and has now publicly stated that he thinks it’s better to do the farm bill in 2012. That will give the committee some chance to adapt to the new situation and to do the background hearings necessary to begin to familiarize themselves with the very large and complex jurisdictions in a farm bill.”

A CQ- Roll Call Summary of new House Members indicated that a few freshmen bring an agricultural perspective to Capitol Hill.  Among them is Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas), a self described “deficit hawk” who “spent most of his working life in agriculture-related news services.”

Vicky Hartzler, a new GOP Member from Missouri “owns an agricultural equipment business with her husband,” and has made balancing the budget one of her key priorities; and, a former Ohio Farm Bureau President, Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) has indicated that “cutting the federal deficit and lowering the national debt” is one of his top concerns.

Representatives Crawford, Hartlzer and Gibbs, will all serve on the House Agriculture Committee.

Balancing fiscal restraint while maintaining a sound national agricultural and food policy will be a key issue as Congress gets to work.

The Hill newspaper reported last week, “Farm subsidies and the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) will come under scrutiny from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the new chairman of the [Appropriations] Agriculture subcommittee.”

Rep. Kingston stated that, “If there is an agricultural conservation program that is popular in red states, we have to look at it. If there is an inner-city school lunch program popular in blue states, we have to look at that, too.”

With respect to the Senate makeup and agriculture, the most significant change is the appointment of a new Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  After Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) was defeated on November 2, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) opted to retain his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the new leader of the Agriculture Committee.

In her first speech as the new Chairman, Sen. Stabenow indicated last week that, “We are going to have a series of hearings on how the farm bill is working and what should change…[W]e will need to find creative solutions to help our growers manage risk. The safety net might look a little different than it does now.”


Keith GoodAbout the author: Keith Good, an attorney from central Illinois, compiles a daily summary of news relating to U.S. farm policy each weekday at www.FarmPolicy.com.

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