Farming in Pennsylvania is the backbone of our culture, economy, and communities. Considering there are roughly 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it’s no wonder most of the polluted runoff entering our rivers and streams comes from agriculture.
A large number of farmers are driven by a culture of stewardship and have taken steps to reduce pollution by doing things to keep nitrogen and phosphorus, and soils on the land where they can do good, instead of in the water where they pollute.
Things like planting streamside forests, cover crops, and installing other practices reduce water pollution while increasing farm productivity. Streambank fencing can help improve herd health because livestock aren’t standing in streams and drinking fouled water.
Some farmers and landowners can afford to pay for these practices out of their own pockets. About 7,000 farmers responded to a Penn State survey earlier this year and follow-up verification will show the scope of voluntary and independently-funded efforts.
Many other landowners need assistance. Some are fortunate to qualify for limited financial and technical assistance in the form of state and federal cost-share and grant programs. CBF works to connect landowners with available funding. But about two-thirds of farmers who apply for assistance each year don’t get it because of a lack of resources.
With assistance, Bob and Maggie Cahalan were able to plant a streamside buffer of 300 native trees and shrubs to trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise flow into Ebaugh and Shaw streams on Many Streams Farm in York County.
Linn Moedinger’s Lancaster farm dates back to the early 18th Century. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Moedingers were able to plant 12 acres of trees, plants and shrubs to protect Mill Creek, the Conestoga River, Susquehanna River, and Chesapeake Bay.
The benefits of state and federal assistance extend beyond the farm.
Charles “Chip” Brown is maintaining a maturing 450-tree streamside buffer along Elk Creek on his Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club property east of State College in Centre County.
Reaching Pennsylvania’s clean water goals requires wise use of additional funding and technical assistance.
Toward that end, CBF analyzed federal data and found that Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams counties contribute the greatest amount of pollution from agriculture. New investments, focused on people, places, and practices in these priority counties can accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture and jumpstart the Commonwealth’s lagging cleanup efforts.
After CBF called for an immediate commitment of new, targeted restoration funds, federal and state partners announced they would collaborate on an infusion of $28.7 million for clean water.
It is important that pollution reduction efforts continue in the Keystone State beyond the priority counties, from the Bennett farm in far northern Susquehanna County, where funding made fencing, forested buffers, and barnyard improvements possible, to the good work the Cahalans are doing in York County.
Meanwhile, the stream of financial and technical assistance must reach high tide, if farmers in Pennsylvania are going to do all they can to clean up our rivers and streams.
— Harry Campbell is Pa. executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.