This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.
Steve Sturgis is a fourth-generation farmer and president of Tri-S Farms Inc. on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Tri-S grows 150 acres of corn, 400 acres of wheat, and 450 acres of soybeans. Sturgis is also president of the Northampton County Farm Bureau.
"If you show us that our fertilizer or our soil is washing into a waterway, we will try our best to do what it takes to prevent this loss," he says, explaining why Shore farmers have requested a water quality specialist for Virginia Tech's Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter, Virginia.
Sturgis is also a partner in a business that supplies Cherrystone Aquafarms with several million clams a year. "Water quality is important to me," he says. "I don't leave ground bare, and I leave my own buffers."
One of the things Sturgis stresses to farmers is to leave wider buffers around their crop fields.
"That's one thing that really bothers me—when I see farmers tilling right up to the edge of the ditch. We need to leave more buffer along our crop fields to capture and filter runoff."
Such farm conservation practices are nothing new to Sturgis.
"My dad started no-till farming back in the '70s, and we continue this conservation practice today because it saves time and money," he says.
He also practices nutrient management and has installed water control structures to capture runoff water to reuse for irrigating his crops. Recently he installed special nozzles on his spray rigs to reduce chemical drift and over-application of product.
A federal Farm Bill program helped Sturgis construct a "hoop house," which allows Tri-S to supply local restaurants with greens, carrots, and other fresh produce. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shared in the cost of the structure.
"We participate in the programs offered by both USDA and the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District," Sturgis says. "These programs are voluntary and help farmers with the stewardship of their land. It's good for the land and for the Chesapeake Bay."
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.