Tag Archives: Water Quality

Farm and Food News 11/18/11

Farm bill progress under wraps

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have signaled that they are near complete on a proposed five-year plan for farm and food policy to be added to deficit-reduction recommendations due November 23. If this date is not met then the farm bill moves onto sequestration, meaning automatic reductions will be made. Have more farm bill questions? Visit www.farmbillfacts.org.

Young farmers in search of land and funds

A report from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition details the biggest challenges faced by young and beginning farmers based on a survey of 1,300 individuals.

An increasing number of programs exist for educating beginning farmers and ranchers, but access to loans and land is often difficult, and obstacles remain in continuing to attract a younger generation to farming.

Local food purchasing turns out to be a huge marketplace

According to a new study from USDA, consumer preference for “local” produce  is paying off for some farmers, at the tune of $4.8 billion per year in total revenue. These sales are expected to continue to increase.

A push for wider access to fresh food

Baltimore is pushing for SNAP benefits to be accepted widely at farmers markets so that users have access to healthy food. The goal is to benefit Maryland farmers with an increase in revenue and to provide more Baltimoreans with healthy food alternatives.

Discussion on the table

While the farm-to-table movement is in full swing, many chefs are still finding it extremely difficult to source food completely locally.

Want to preserve your farmland?

If you are interested in learning about how to preserve your farmland, Canterbury Community Center in Connecticut is holding a free workshop to enhance your knowledge. It will be held on November 29 from 6:30 to 9 pm.

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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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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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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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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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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.

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