The Chesapeake watershed is home to many farms; 87,000 to be exact. Farmers have been a force for Bay restoration for a long time, employing a litany of different sustainable farming practices to protect clean water in local streams and rivers. A new report by the Chesapeake Bay Commission finds that these practices are serving the watershed well, however farmers will require much more outside help to get the Bay to meet its 2025 cleanup goals.
Farmers rely on a variety of programs—both public and private—to identify their farm-specific environmental threats and the methods they can implement to practice environmentally-sound farming. These programs provide farmers with experts that can discuss policy, financial assistance, program compliance, practice verification and much more. The CBC even went as far as to say, "Reliance on accessible, high quality technical assistance professionals is an essential component of successful modern-day, environmentally-sound farming."
An assessment by the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network found that there is not currently enough technical assistance available in Maryland, Pennsylvania or Virginia to meet farmers’ needs. This shortage exists in all six of the Chesapeake Bay watershed states, which can pose a threat to the 2025 clean-up goals launched in 2010 by the EPA. Specifically, the participants in the CBFN assessment estimated that the number of on-the-ground technical service professionals needs to increase by 30 percent to meet current demand.
Technical services that would be offered to farmers may include, for example: educating a farmer about available pollution reduction ‘cost-share’ programs; advising a farmer on ‘whole-farm’ conservation planning; or sharing engineering expertise on the implementation of farm-specific pollution reduction practices.
Without proper access to these services, farmers won't be able to access the needed help to implement pollution reduction measures. This threatens the Bay states' ability to meet their targets for reducing farm-generated pollution.
Some examples of agricultural conservation practices for which technical assistance is provided include the following:
- The use of cover crops
- Streamside fencing and alternate water sources for livestock
- Nutrient management planning
- Precision farming
These measures are not one-size-fits-all, and will vary based on the farm.
The report isn't pessimistic, however, as the CBC put forth several ideas for ways that Bay states can meet its goals.
Create a Robust Network of Private Sector and Non-Profit Providers of Technical Assistance
The CBC feels that farmers could have more access to necessary help by making training and certification of technical experts more streamlined and accessible, and that private sector providers should be given full certification authority (e.g. the ability to certify plans, the implementation and verification of practices, etc.).
- Enhance the Job Climate for Governmental Conservation Professionals Providing Technical Assistance
Similar how there needs to be an effort to harbor a more positive environment with private sector and non-profit experts, there needs to be a more favorable relationship for publicly employed conservation professionals. The CBC recommends that a tuition loan assistance program be available for conservation officials who provide technical assistance to farmers. They also suggest that a two-year technical assistance certification program for high school graduates that includes a post-graduate apprenticeship program be developed.
- Provide More Consistent, Stable, and Predictable Levels of Funding for Technical Assistance, Including Funds Independent of Cost-Share Programs
As to be expected, increased funding on a state and federal grant level would greatly increase farmers' ability to employ pollution reduction measures.
This report was peppered with success stories from various farmers about their positive experiences working with experts, which is an encouraging sign that these efforts are a step in the right direction. Bay conservation relies on action and unity on all fronts, but agriculture especially needs resources and funding to reduce pollution to meet the Bay states' 2025 goals.
Joe DeWitt is a communications intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.