December 22, 2016

Pennsylvania Farmers Invest Heavily in Chesapeake Bay Water Quality

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Pennsylvania livestock farmers have likely invested millions of dollars of their own money to abate environmental concerns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A total of 6,782 farmers in 41 counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed responded to a survey conducted in early 2016, reporting they have established nutrient and manure management plans on nearly 476,000 acres, and enhanced nutrient management plans on nearly 100,000 acres. They have also installed nearly 250 miles of streambank fencing, and planted some 1,750 acres of grass buffers along streambanks.

The farmers say they have enrolled nearly a quarter million acres in conservation plans, and 55,000 acres of agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plans.

The study stemmed from agricultural leaders' desire to document measures Pennsylvania farmers have taken on their own, without federal or state funding, to reduce nitrogen and sediment levels in local streams, rivers and lakes. 

"This survey is extremely valuable in reporting voluntary practices that, to date, have not been adequately captured and reported for credit," says Matthew Royer, director of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, who oversaw the survey project.

"The cumulative numbers of conservation practices on the ground are significant and reveal a large amount of conservation being implemented by farmers outside of government cost-share programs. They have put a lot of their dollars and resources into conservation, so they should get credit for that."

To verify response accuracy, researchers then randomly selected more than 700 of the respondents for farm visits in August by dozens of trained and experienced Penn State Extension staff. The verification component of the survey confirmed that farmers were accurate in their reporting, says Royer.

While Royer is pleased with the results of the survey, he also points out not all farmers are participating in conservation efforts. “Clearly, more needs to be done,” he says.