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We’re Halfway There: Keeping Soil and Cows Out of Our Waters

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs), demonstrating that agriculture is halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Buff Showalter standing in front of recently cut “Marshall” rye grass in the foreground and barley in the background. Both are excellent cover crops.

Dayton, Va. – “We’ve done two very important things on this farm that have helped with production and the environment: Keeping the soil on the land and out of the river is number one, and number two is keeping our cows out of the streams,” said Buff Showalter, fourth generation Mennonite farmer in the Shenandoah Valley.

Building soil health is high on Showalter’s priority list. High-diversity cover crops and little, if any, soil disturbance help him average 3.8 to 4.0 percent organic matter. 

“That’s huge,” said Virginia Natural Resources Conservation Service State Agronomist Chris Lawrence.  “Soil organic matter is a good barometer for measuring soil health.” 

Lawrence added, “As soil health improves, crop yields increase. Likewise, as soil health improves, the soil is better able to perform its key environmental function—absorbing rain and cycling nutrients for plant use. The overall result is less runoff and less sediment and fewer nutrients downstream.”

Showalter fenced his cattle out of the streams years ago for several reasons. 

“Floods kept washing our fences out, and we had foot problems with our cows,” he said. “Common sense and science has proven that cows in the stream are not good for water quality or for your cows.

“Our farm is in the Lower Dry River watershed, and we’ve come a long way in five years. Farmers in this watershed are putting in a lot of conservation because we want to de-list the stream from the state’s dirty water’s list. It’s good for our water and good for our land as well.”

Showalter has participated in many of the programs available to farmers that help with technical assistance and fund Best Management Practices to build soil health, improve water quality, and establish wildlife habitat.

To find out more, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District or the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

—Bobby Whitescarver  

Whitescarver is a recently retired USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who spent more than 30 years working with farmers on conservation practices. He now has his own private consulting business where he helps landowners create an overall vision and plan for their land. He also works with CBF to help famers install more Best Managment Practices (BMPs) in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the recipient of a CBF Conservationist of the Year award. For more information, visit his website or e-mail him at



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