Tag Archives: farmers

Bi-Partisan Legislation Bolsters Efforts to Clean the Bay

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay needs to be improved. To be sustainable for the future, the people of this region need to figure out how to live, work, farm and recreate in ways that allow the Chesapeake estuary to function and thrive.

Contrary to the opinions of some, maintaining well-managed farms and private forests is an essential part of the solution. Essential, rather than optional, because farm soils improve water quality through filtration; because farmers can achieving pollution reductions more cheaply than sewage treatment plants or urban residents; and because agriculture does all this while contributing more to the region’s economy than any other single sector.

The forthcoming Bay-wide TMDL will require deep reductions in nutrients and sediment, and present significant changes to farmers and every other Bay resident and business.

Bi-partisan legislation in the both House and the Senate has come through an often contentious and heated debate, with important policy and program tools help all of us to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization & Improvement Act was introduced in the House by Congressmen Holden (D-PA) and Goodlatte (R-VA), and passed out of the Agriculture Committee on unanimous voice vote. Rep. Holden worked hard to craft legislation that is responsive to the concerns of the agriculture community, recognizes their positive contributions, and helps set reasonable environmental goals for agriculture.

The second bill, The Chesapeake Clean Water & Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009, authored by Senator Cardin (D-MD), was revised with support from Senator Inhofe (R-OK), which enabled it to pass out of committee, also unanimously.

Each bill provides essential tools and resources to improve water quality in the Bay, especially for farmers. The provisions in both bills are complementary and would:

  • Offer regulatory protection, a “safe harbor,” to farmers who are on track in implementing a conservation plan.
  • Reinvigorate the potential for environmental-trading markets (the Senate bill with guarantees for investors, and the House with an impartial oversight commission).
  • Mandate a complete, full and accurate accounting of all practices farmers have implemented up to the present, and moving forward.
  • Provide funds to implement conservation practices, technical assistance, and research on farms. The Senate bill provides 20 percent of all state implementation grant resources for that purpose, and investments in research.
  • Mandate greater collaboration between the EPA and USDA. The House bill increases the USDA’s authority in setting technical standards and developing a nutrient-trading program.

When both parties and houses of Congress converge like this, it’s a sign of a real opportunity.  At American Farmland Trust (AFT), we like what we see in these bills. Together they achieve a healthy balance of voluntary, incentive-based programs within an overall regulatory framework.

Farmers need clearly defined expectations and requirements coupled with the flexibility to adapt practices to fit their individual farm operations. Regulatory-only approaches cost the public and farmers more.

These bills offer an approach of shared responsibility and accountability. Farmers have done a lot to improve water quality, more than they are often given credit for, and more than other sectors. Nevertheless, all parties must be responsible and held accountable to take action and make improvements.

Farmers and environmentalists deserve a final bill that’s equitable, balancing clear environmental standards with tools that will get the job done. If like Congress, farmers and environmentalists can keep their common goals in mind, and come together in a bi-partisan way, this legislation provides the tools we need to have healthy farms and a healthier Bay.

Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust. This post was originally run in the Del Marva Farmer.

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Which Way the Wind Blows: AgWeatherNet Gives Washington Farmers the Data They Need to Grow Greener

Alien-looking contraptions with metal arms protrude out of farm fields throughout the state of Washington. Look closer and you’ll see gauges on the arms measuring all kinds of weather data, from temperature and precipitation to wind, dew point, solar radiation and humidity. The stations—part of Washington’s AgWeatherNet—relay data to a website (weather.wsu.edu) that farmers and the public can check for free information on current weather and agricultural conditions.

“I don’t know a farmer or field consultant who doesn’t use it,” says Washington State University (WSU) plant pathologist and AgWeatherNet director Gary Grove. “Over an eight year period, we went from a few people using it to everyone.” The network—launched in part by a grant from the EPA and American Farmland Trust—is one of the most advanced of its kind in the country. Farmers use it to make decisions about everything from irrigation and pruning to fertilizer and pesticide use. (And can sign up for text messages alerting them to adverse weather conditions).

Grove and other WSU researchers are using the weather data—along with disease and insect models—to help growers predict potential insect and disease outbreaks. By better assessing the risk from such threats, the network is helping farmers reduce their chemical use. Grape growers, for instance, have been able to use the data to better time their efforts to combat powdery mildew that infects grapevines. “We’ve reduced fungicide use over 27 percent with wine grapes,” Grove says.

This profile, along with many others can be found in the Integrated Pest Management cover story of our 2010 summer issue of American Farmland magazine. You can get your yearlong subscription by becoming a member of American Farmland Trust today.

Kirsten Ferguson
About the Author: Kirsten Ferguson is Editor/Writer for American Farmland Trust. She works in the Saratoga, NY office and can be reached at kferguson [at] farmland.org

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The 64,000 Mile Chesapeake Bay Plan

There are a couple of big happenings in the world of Chesapeake Bay restoration in regards to farmers in the region- and for those out of the region too, since the Bay is likely to be the model for other watersheds across the country.

First, as of May 11, 2010, a federal judge found that the EPA has failed in its responsibility to ensure the Clean Water Act, and must now act to do so.

Next, a new multi-agency federal strategy has just been unveiled for protecting and restoring the health of the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay region and its communities. This strategy was developed under the Executive Order issued by President Obama a year ago that designated the bay as a national treasure and enacted a new multi-tier action and accountability scheme.

For farmers in the watershed, this means:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide farmers and forest owners throughout the bay watershed with the resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorous out of local waterways.
  • USDA will target federal funding to the places where it will have the greatest water quality impact and will ensure that agricultural producers’ conservation efforts are accurately reported.
  • USDA will also lead a federal initiative to develop a watershed-wide environmental services market that would allow producers to generate tradable water quality credits in return for installing effective conservation practices.

In summary, the Executive Order Plan is final, a key court case is closed—and all that’s left is actually doing the work!

This is where we are focused. Within the region’s four million acres of agricultural land, we are supporting viable farms and clean water by helping farmers adopt conservation practices that reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, by securing farmland protection measures and working with agricultural and environmental partners on sensible policies and programs.  Change is coming and we want farmers to have the necessary tools to meet new regulations and requirements set to clean the Chesapeake Bay.

The EPA is asking for very specific assurances from Chesapeake states to reduce the nutrients and sediment that make their way into waterways and eventually the Bay and we think that farmers need greater flexibility in how they choose to meet these new requirements and limits.  Farmland is essential to water quality in the Bay, so we must ensure that regulations help clean the bay while still letting farmers run the successful business necessary to keep the land in agriculture- if not, the farm will likely be sold to developers and we will lose yet another farm, and with it, our most cost effective way to clean the Chesapeake Bay.

AFT has been busy working with individuals and organizations in the region to achieve this balancing act.  It is a long road ahead, but we are certain of a future where the Chesapeake Bay is a thriving ecosystem, not in spite of the surrounding farmland, but because of it.

Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust.

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Band Plays Environmentally-Friendly Tune with Help of Farmers

While others debate how to reduce carbon emissions, students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, are calculating the carbon footprint of their activities, then paying local farmers to offset those emissions with healthy farming practices that capture carbon and preserve the land.

The initiative, organized as StoCarb (St. Olaf Carbon Offsets: Seeking Forgiveness for Our Carbon Sins) is just one in a series of St. Olaf student environmental projects that combine education, research, personal responsibility and partnership with area farmers.

“We have an ideal situation, because St. Olaf owns 400 acres that it rents to local farmers,” explains Dr. Kathleen Shea, field ecology research supervisor and curator of natural lands.  “We’ve had student projects lead the college to a change in land use that will be better for the land.”

As an example, she cites Megan Gregory’s semester-long monitoring of the effects of cropping and tillage patterns on soil, water, energy use and productivity, which demonstrated that local farmers could make a better income and better protect the land with no-till planting techniques that disturb the earth much less than traditional plowing methods. No-till traps greater amounts of carbon in the soil, a process known as carbon sequestration.

“The upshot of that project is that the college decided all contracts for its land would require either no-till or low-till practices,” Shea says.

Students have determined that no-till technology sequesters about 0.6 metric tons of carbon per acre – but they aren’t limiting their research to what farmers can do about carbon emissions.

They are also looking at the carbon cost of some prized college activities, such as the St. Olaf Band’s annual tour.  For the 2008-09 season, a group of band members calculated the carbon implications of the 100-member unit traveling to California and back with its instruments and gear at 171.6 metric tons of carbon.

Erin Fulton, a senior, organized the St. Olaf Band Eco-Crew, which educated fellow band members about the issue and presented the idea of offsetting the band’s carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

Band members bought the idea, making personal contributions to purchase carbon credits on 286 no-till acres – enough to make their tour carbon-neutral. Students and farmers used Chicago Climate Exchange data to agree on a price of $1.40 per ton. In March, students hosted farmers at the college for a business lunch on the project – and the farmers surprised them by donating their carbon checks back to StoCarb to help continue the initiative.

Keeping up the momentum will be challenging.  This year, the St. Olaf Band toured Japan, a trip with a huge carbon footprint, and there is talk of purchasing credits to make all St. Olaf international study programs carbon-neutral, with students encouraged to base carbon emissions paybacks on the length of flights.

Still, farmer Dave Legvold sees great potential in the St. Olaf approach, not only to manage carbon but for a stronger partnership in general:  “It’s a great method to bring students and farmers together.  You wouldn’t think of a college band working with local farmers to offset carbon emissions, but that’s what we have here.

“We have a great relationship between students and real ‘I farm for a living’ farmers.”

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