Tag Archives: BMP Challenge

Taking a Risk on the Farm Proves Economically Rewarding, Environmentally Beneficial

Three years before the Maryland Department of Agriculture revised nutrient management regulations a BMP Challenge crop adviser, Don Moore (AET Agricultural Consulting) took the initiative and partnered with American Farmland Trust and Agflex Inc. to work with seven farmers to inject or incorporate manure into the soil.  Manure injection or incorporation increases fertilizer efficiency, thus reducing potential nutrient loss from the field three ways.  When the manure is below, rather than on top of the soil, nitrogen rich ammonia gas can’t escape to the air making more of it available to the plant by as much as 20%. Secondly, the fertilizer is now located several inches closer to the plant roots. Finally, it is far less susceptible to being washed away in heavy spring rains. The potential is for this practice to allow the farmer to reduce the total amount of total fertilizer inputs mainly the chemical type put on mid-season, thus be, saving money and improving water quality.

Since manure incorporation with vertical tillage equipment such as an Aerway or Turbotill is a relatively new practice, the BMP Challenge comparisons were setup to determine whether incorporation would affect yields. In 2012, participants applied the same number of nitrogen credits across the entire field.  However, they reduced the amount of commercial fertilizer at sidedress on the manure incorporation acres.  The incorporation increased the nitrogen credit to offset the commercial fertilizer reduction. By the third year, the part of the field where manure was applied to the surface at the recommended rate was compared to the rest of the field that used incorporation and a reduced application rate based less ammonia escaping to the air.

Across the three years, incorporation showed an average increase in net returns by $6.00 per acre and a nitrogen reduction of 7 pounds.  Over-all the farmers saved more than 8,400 pounds of nitrogen applications. Five of seven participating farmers in the BMP Challenge demonstrations were interviewed last fall regarding their participation. Three have purchased new equipment. One is seriously considering it and the fifth has expanded use of vertical tillage to all his crop acres. According to Moore, “Throughout the entire BMP Challenge process, farmers demonstrated their willingness and eagerness to learn.  They want to learn about and adopt new technologies if they make good economic sense.  They are not willing to risk yield to experiment.  This is where the yield guarantee was important to them.  In this world of high commodity prices, and inputs that are equally as high, growers are hesitant to entertain additional risk.  No one is interested in over-application of nutrients.

Maryland state law now requires farmers to inject or incorporate manure and other organic nutrient sources into the soil within 48 hours of application.  The past three years of work on the Eastern Shore has provided important information to farmers and agricultural advisors as well. The BMP Challenge will be working with an expanded number of growers this year to transition from surface application to manure incorporation.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Hot Fun in the Summer Time: Ear Leaf Tissue Testing

It was July, almost August. And was HOT. I was burrowing my way through six foot tall corn in 100 degree temperatures! Last month I told you about testing the soil to get a read on how much nitrogen (think plant food) there is next to the corn plants to help them grow. We did that BEFORE the farmer gave the corn any additional fertilizer which made it a Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Tests (PSNT).

As a crop advisor for the BMP Challenge, I revisited the fields at the end of July to take Ear Leaf Tissue Samples. The plant’s silk coming from the top of the ears is still yellow but just about to turn brown meaning it’s our last chance to check up on the health of the plants prior to harvest. Walking the length of the field (about two football fields with 6-foot corn means I hadn’t seen daylight for 30 minutes!) and I periodically pulled off a leaf, the one that grows at the base of the ear of corn, to collect samples for testing.  Being in the field also gave me a chance to examine the crop for signs of stress, such as withered leaves from drought, yellowed leaves due to low nitrogen and insects.

These samples taken in BMP Challenge enrolled fields come from two areas: first from the “check strip,” where the farmer had applied nitrogen at a rate of his or her own choosing, and then from the remainder of the field where the nitrogen rate was determined by the PSNT results.  The samples of ear leaves help backup the PSNT results, showing that the portion of the field that had received a reduced amount of fertilizer would still have adequate nitrogen to make it through harvest.  But maybe even more important, the ear leaf test provides another data point, another topic to discuss when we sit down as a group with the participating farmers after the harvest. As a crop advisor, I work to provide BMP Challenge enrolled farmers with all the information to ponder, discussing their observations and the test results against their yields to evaluate the use of best management practices on their field.

The PSNT and Ear Leaf tests just provide a snapshot of the nutrients available to the plants on the day the samples are taken. They give the farmer one more piece of the complex puzzle that is nitrogen fertilizer management.  Much research has been done over the last several decades to determine the amount of each nutrient that is necessary to support growth. Mother Nature is unpredictable and soil types differ from farm to farm, so each farmer must have their management strategies. At the same time, it is impossible for any single test or guideline to consistently provide the “right” answer about how much fertilizer a farmer should apply.  The main reason I was out in the summer heat, melting and collecting the ear leaf samples was to give each farmer one more measurement of their crop’s progress in order to evaluate the recommendations that we made to them after the PSNT.

When people my age leave Virginia Tech with an ag degree and look at today’s economy, they know they will have to be innovative in order to remain profitable if they want to farm  The “slippery fish” of nitrogen that I work with as a crop advisor requires extra attention; it’s risky and being wrong is expensive. AFT’s BMP Challenge program is providing access to tools and knowledge to help farmers better manage their fertilizer usage. By offering insurance, AFT is encouraging producers to try new practices on their fields—like the one I walked through that hot July day—and not lose sleep at night worrying about yield loss. Using fertilizer more efficiently meets the double bottom line that farmers want: to improve the water in the stream while getting the most corn at the least cost.



About the Author: Dana Gochenour is a farmer and freelance writer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She can be reached at dgochen@vt.edu.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

What is the BMP Challenge?

The BMP Challenge™ is a program that American Farmland Trust is running in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, in other Mid-Atlantic states, in New York, California and across the Midwest as a tool to help farmers implement BMPs, or Best Management Practices to achieve conservation goals, on their farmland. For farmers with fields in corn, nitrogen is one of the primary nutrients to help it grow, and farmers apply commercial forms of nitrogen fertilizer to provide the crop with added nutrients. The amount of nitrogen applied to the field is based on the farmer’s yield goal, or how many bushels of corn the farmer expects to grow per acre—one pound of nitrogen for one bushel of corn on average. But nitrogen’s availability to the plant is tricky, affected by temperature and the moisture in the soil. To ensure that the corn gets enough a farmer may apply extra nitrogen as insurance for reaching their yield goals.

Barn and corn field in Virginia's Shenandoah ValleyWhen more nitrogen (or any other nutrient) is applied than what the plant can utilize for growth, the excess can leave the field as runoff and contaminate waterways. Farmers have no interest in wasting expensive fertilizer or sending nutrients into nearby waterways, but their harvest is their pay check for the whole year. The risk of being wrong is great. The role that the BMP Challenge plays is to allow the farmer to compare a new practice, designed to be more nitrogen efficient, to their standard practice with a guaranteed payment if they lose yield.

When a farmer agrees to participate in the BMP Challenge a crop advisor, like me, works with them to collect a detailed history on the enrolled field, outlining the history of corn grown  and how much and what types of fertilizers have been applied to the ground. This allows us to establish how much nitrogen is already present in the soil and available for use by the newly planted crop. The crop advisor then asks what the farmer’s current yield goal is, so we can determine how much total nitrogen the corn will need by the end of the growing season.

Typically, farmers in the Shenandoah Valley apply fertilizer to corn twice; once at planting and again when they “sidedress” the balance when the corn is about knee high. This way fertilizer is available to the plant at every stage during the growing season. My job as a crop advisor is to help the farmer pinpoint exactly how much sidedress nitrogen is needed by using a Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Test, or PSNT.

The farmer and crop advisor collect soil samples 12 inches deep to measure the amount of nitrogen available to the plant just prior to the time when the young plants need the most fertilizer. The extra depth allows a more complete and accurate picture of how much nitrogen is available and helps guard against over fertilization. (Check out this video from the University of Wisconsin Extension for a look at PSNT in action.)

For the BMP Challenge™, We take soil samples from two different parts of the field.  One is a strip through the middle of the field, or check strip, where the farmer was encouraged to sidedress the crop at whatever rate they would typically use based on their soil type and yield goal.  In the remainder of the field the farmer agreed to only apply the amount of nitrogen recommended from the PSNT result.  It is possible that the PSNT could be the same as what the farmer had already planned or it could even call for more nitrogen, but often, the PSNT indicates that the nitrogen sidedress can be reduced or even eliminated without causing a loss in yield.

At a time when commercial fertilizer can be a third of corn’s total cost of production, any savings a farmer can find will make a huge difference for their bottom line.  Using a soil test to adjust nitrogen rates to the actual need can save money and improve water quality.  But what if it’s wrong?

By using a side-by-side comparison within the same field it is possible for the farmer to prove to him or her self that the PSNT can be trusted. And by performing the test under the umbrella of the BMP Challenge™, the risk of trying this new practice is eliminated.

Next up… Half-way to Harvest – What’s the Score? -Ear Leaf Tissue Testing in the BMP fields



About the Author: Dana Gochenour is a farmer and freelance writer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She can be reached at dgochen@vt.edu.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

New York: A Year of Progress

At year’s end, we often reflect on the many challenges and successes of the past year. In New York, we are thankful for the tremendous impact that farmers, citizens and others have made to support local farming and the production of local food.

Across New York state, a movement is forming. People are coming together who care about jobs and our farm and food economy. They want to make it possible for more New Yorkers to have fresh fruits, vegetables milk and other products grown on local farms. And, New Yorkers are increasingly conscious that we need to stop losing farms to residential and commercial development. Here are a few examples of our work in 2011 as part of this growing No Farms No Food® movement:

New York farm and farmlandTransitioning Farms to the Next Generation of Farmers

Roughly 30 percent of New York’s farmers are over the age of 65—with five times more farmers over the age of 65 than under 35. The transition of farms from one generation to the next—if all doesn’t go smoothly—represents a time of risk when farms are susceptible to being paved over for development. But that period of transition also offers hope for a younger generation looking to farm. In November and December, we focused a spotlight on these issues with forums in the Hudson Valley and Western New York. These events brought together farmers, land trusts, agricultural educators and others to identify the greatest needs and opportunities for aiding senior generations with farm transfer planning and assisting younger generations with securing productive farmland.

Securing Funds to Save Farmland

We organized our second No Farms No Food® Rally at the State Capitol on March 30, bringing together more than 150 New Yorkers and 70 organizations. Together, we met with more than 100 state legislators in support of critical funding needed to protect farmland from development, create farm and food jobs and increase the availability of local foods for all New Yorkers. With this support, Governor Cuomo and state legislators passed the first budget increase for farmland protection in three years and restored funding for a series of farm programs that were on the verge of being eliminated.

Working with Communities to Support Local Farms and Stop the Loss of Farmland

In 2011, we released Planning for Agriculture in New York: A Toolkit for Towns and Counties to help planners, citizens and local officials take proactive steps to keep farms thriving in their communities. The new guide highlights 80 communities that have taken action through agricultural economic development programs, food and public policies, zoning and land use planning, purchase of development rights, public education and more. After releasing the new guide, we held a six-session webinar series highlighting chapters of the new publication that attracted almost 300 people from New York and other states.

Helping Farmers Protect Clean Water Across New York

For more than two decades, American Farmland Trust has worked with farmers to continue their legacy of environmental stewardship in New York. In 2011, we worked with farmers, landowners, conservation professionals and others to develop the Owasco Lake Agricultural Conservation Blueprint to help farmers enhance water quality in the lake while ensuring thriving farms. In addition, we kicked off a significant project in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County that will help sweet corn growers alter their fertilizer practices in order to reduce pollution in Long Island Sound.

A Look Ahead

The urgency for American Farmland Trust’s work in New York has never been greater.  Our society needs the jobs that will come from a stronger farm and food system. At the same time, the urgent need for protection of natural resources, including soil and water, is tremendous. In the year ahead, we hope that you will join the movement in responding to these challenges. Each of us can play a role, whether by shopping at a farmers market, serving on a town planning board or protecting your own farmland. All of these steps matter. Remember, “No Farms, No Food!”


David Haight 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.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

California: A Year of Progress

Producing one-eighth of all U.S. food and fiber—more than 300 different crops—on just three percent of its farmland, California is the nation’s biggest agricultural producer. It is also the most populous and fastest growing state. This combination presents considerable challenges for farms and farmland.

This year, we worked with partners throughout the state to make significant progress on each of the groundbreaking initiatives we’ve launched to address the challenges facing farms in California. To us, the challenges represent opportunities to advance our mission of saving farmland, promoting environmentally friendly farming practices and maintaining the economic viability of agriculture. Here is an update on how our strategy is working.

Hoop houses and vegetable farm in CaliforniaSaving  San Joaquin Valley Farmland

We’re helping to guide the first regional planning process in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s most important agricultural area. The Blueprint that emerged this year will save more than 120,000 acres of farmland by reducing urban sprawl. But to accomplish this, it must be incorporated into the land use plans of the region’s local governments, which is now our focus in the valley. At the same time, we have persuaded regional officials to produce a complementary “greenprint” that will inventory agricultural and natural resources and recommend strategies for their conservation and management.

San Francisco Bay Area Foodshed

The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area is losing about one percent of its remaining farmland every year as agriculture in the region struggles to compete—not only with development but also against farmers and ranchers in other areas of California who face lower costs and fewer urban headaches. To halt this trend, American Farmland Trust and partner organizations like the Greenbelt Alliance are promoting a regional agricultural economic development strategy to help farmers and ranchers capitalize on the market advantage they enjoy because of the region’s strong interest in locally grown food.

Environmental Stewardship

Our on-the-ground demonstration projects are helping convince growers that conservation practices do not have to reduce yields and profits. Our Nutrient BMP Challenge® program helped farmers growing feed for dairy cows adopt new environmentally friendly farming practices on 2,400 acres in the San Joaquin Valley. We are also beginning a new project in partnership with the Campbell Soup Company to help tomato producers reduce fertilizer and conserve water. And we are holding focus groups with farmers across the state to identify other obstacles keeping farmers from adopting practices that safeguard the environment.

California Agricultural Vision

One of the most significant things we have ever done in California is to orchestrate a process that led to the adoption by the State Board of Food & Agriculture of a set of strategies to address the major challenges facing California agriculture, among them water, regulations, workforce, invasive species and land use. This year, we have been working with leaders from agriculture, the environmental community and other interest groups to implement California Agricultural Vision, as the plan is called. Foremost among our priorities is an assessment of agriculture’s future land and water needs in light of a growing population, climate change and other factors likely to influence supply and demand for food, which we are pursuing in partnership with researchers at the University of California.

A Look Ahead

While continuing to make progress on the initiatives mentioned here, we will have to address new threats to farmland in the coming year. Among them is a high-speed rail system that—without good land use planning—threatens to encourage more urban sprawl. We also face hundreds of proposals to build industrial-scale solar energy facilities—you guessed it—on California’s irreplaceable farmland.


Ed ThompsonAbout the Author: Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director at American Farmland Trust has been with the organization since it was founded 30 years ago, serving in multiple positions and helping initiate a wide variety of projects.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Helping Farmers Address the Problem of Hypoxia in Our Coastal Waters

Our nation’s coastal waters are vital resources to the local economies along their shores; they contain habitats rich with life and are welcomed destinations for many a traveler.  But a recent report released by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy warns of a bleak future for these areas and the delicate ecosystems they support.  The reason: low-oxygen “dead zones.”

The condition, known as hypoxia, has serious repercussions for marine ecosystems. Nearly half of the 647 waterways in the study showed dead zones, with the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay Area and coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest topping the list.  These unnaturally low levels of oxygen are largely due to human activities, including runoff from fertilizers used in agricultural production.

Since 1998, American Farmland Trust has been working together with the agricultural community through our BMP Challenge to help farmers adopt conservation practices in sensitive watersheds.  The program seeks to help farmers enhance their nutrient management practices and reduce fertilizer run-off that can impair local and regional water quality.  With more than 9,200 acres in seven Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states enrolled, the BMP Challenge has effectively engaged farmers to test and adopt innovative approaches and spur improvements to policies and programs that support farmers’ adoption of environmentally sound practices.

Thanks to initiatives like the BMP Challenge, progress in reducing nutrient runoff and mitigating the impact on regional waters is being realized.  In one example, American Farmland Trust is working with farmers in coastal states committed to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement to adopt conservation practices in a region that has seen increases in hypoxia for more than 30 years.  Our goal is to continue to scale up the BMP challenge across the nation, matching it with our work on ecosystem services markets to create a future where farmers are an active part of securing cleaner water across the country.

However, there is much more work to be done if we hope to truly protect our nations’ waters.  And it is up to all of us to take part in that discussion.

The BMP Challenge has been an effective tool for reducing nutrient runoff into nearby waterways.  Join us in heeding the call to protect our precious coastal waters by expanding conservation opportunities before it is too late.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter