We're Halfway There: Bellevue Farm

Drumheller April 2014 (Augusta Co CD6)

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.

Charlie Drumheller and his wife Vicki own and, together with their son Bobby, operate Bellevue Farm, a grazing operation in Swoope located in Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

"Any successful business has to have a goal to continually improve," Charlie says, "and we've been doing that on this farm my whole life."

Their commercial cow/calf operation began with Charlie's father in 1944. "We knew long ago that the most effective use of the land was for grazing, and in order to have an efficient grazing farm, you have to have abundant water," Charlie said.

Supplying abundant clean water wasn't easy during several drought years. "I tried to partially fence out the creeks with 'T' posts and temporary wire, but we didn't have the alternative water to really make it work," Charlie recalls.

The farm's rotational grazing system is now fully operational, thanks to several Farm Bill programs and Virginia's Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) program. "We started by getting the cows out of the stream in the barnyard. It was a mess," Charlie said. "Then when the CREP program opened up in Virginia, we used USDA technical support and funding to set up the watering system for the whole farm."

They now have 20 grazing units and 11 livestock watering stations, with plans to add four more, using a combination of programs including CREP, EQIP, and VACS.

"Prior to fencing the stream, you would have to go to church twice on Sunday to ask forgiveness about what you called the cattle trying to get them into the barnyard," Charlie remembers. "It's a whole lot easier to get the cows in now. When we open a gate, they come."

Charlie and Bobby offer a host of advantages for rotational grazing over their former continuous grazing system on the farm: ease of herd movement, better forage utilization, healthier cattle, no more muck and mud, better manure distribution, and reduced hay needs.

This 365-acre farm has also dedicated about 25 percent of the land to riparian buffer and wildlife areas. "Before we got into CREP, we never saw a turkey on this farm," Bobby says. "Now we see them regularly. And it's nice to see the water leaving our farm clear even after a rain."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs. 


Bay-Friendly Farm Bill Passes Senate!

Farm
Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It has taken YEARS, but today the U.S. Senate joined the House and passed a new Bay-friendly Farm Bill! The bill includes conservation programs that will help Bay farmers stop pollution at its source and ensure our families enjoy clean water.

With senators and representatives from all six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we worked hard to make sure this new bill invests in sustainable family farms in the watershed, and provides them with the tools and resources they need to protect our legacy: clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and in the rivers and streams that feed it. In fact, many Bay senators were prepared to vote NO on this bill if it did not help Bay farmers. 

And our effort was successful: This Farm Bill will help family farmers in our watershed keep valuable fertilizer on their land and ensure we have clean water. While this vote happened in Washington, it was our work together--our restoration, outreach, advocacy, and communications efforts--that built the support these senators needed to vote for the Bay.

Here is a roundup of the Farm Bill programs essential to Bay restoration: The new bill includes three U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide critical tools and resources for family farmers in the Bay watershed. These programs are: 

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shares the costs with farmers for installing basic on-farm practices that keep fertilizer on the farm and out of the water. In all watershed states, demand for this program exceeds supply.
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a new program that will continue the commitment to make targeted investments in family farms, particularly those farms located in "critical conservation areas" like the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For example, it will provide additional resources for installing on-farm practices that prevent pollution from entering the water.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps landowners to restore streams that run through their land by installing conservation measures. For example, farmers plant trees that both stabilize soil on stream banks and create shade that lowers stream temperatures for fish. Additionally, they install fences that keep animals--and their manure--out of streams.

Now that the bill is poised to become law, CBF intends to work closely with Bay farmers to ensure they can participate in the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Under this program, groups like CBF will help family farmers plan and install specific agricultural conservation practices on their land that are vital to improving local and downstream water quality. 

So, taken together, this bill is a great step forward towards clean water!

—Alix Murdoch, CBF's Federal Policy Director

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs. 


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Marquardt Farms, Centre County, PA

 

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Mike Marquardt farms 360 acres in central Pennsylvania. Photo by Frank Rohrer.

Meandering its way through central Pennsylvania, Penns Creek is a world-class trout fishery. But lately it's not just anglers who are drawn to it.

Attention has shifted to the efforts of local farmers who, with many partners and funding through the federal Farm Bill, are improving Penns Creek and its tributaries. At the same time, they are improving the economic stability of their farms.

The watershed has its share of problems. Cows muck through the creek, plowing fields sends soil rushing into streams during rains, and land use changes like the development of farmlands all take a toll on the trout and on their clean water habitat.

But it is getting better, thanks to farmers like Mike Marquardt, who operates Marquardt Farms in Spring Mills. He shares, "Muddy Creek [a tributary of Penns Creek] runs through the farms, so I have to do my part to minimize the impacts."

Mike's efforts are doing just that.

He says, "Cover crops keep the nutrients in the ground!" Planting cover crops and utilizing no-till planting methods are two of the conservation practices Mike follows for the 360 acres of farmland that he manages for his mother Linda. These soil-saving practices and others were prescribed through USDA NRCS conservation plans.

In addition to managing crops, he also raises 50 steers and 40 holstein heifers. That can add up to a lot of manure. Through programs like the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP), and the Chesapeake Bay Program, Mike received the technical and financial assistance needed to build a manure storage facility.

"With my new manure storage I can spread manure when I want to and put it where I need it." And that's important. Properly managing manure application, combined with planting cover crops goes a long way toward keeping nutrients in the ground and out of the stream.

Finally, Mike knew that having the cows muck-around in Muddy Creek was not good for the water--or for the cows. So with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) he enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

CREP provided the assistance Mike needed to fence the cattle from the creek and plant a buffer of trees between the creek and the field--one more way to keep the nutrients and the soil where they belong.

—Frank Rohrer and Kelly Donaldson

 Ensure that families like the Kuhns are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Kuhn Family Farm, Bradford County, PA

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Randy and Tina Kuhn own and operate the Kuhn Family Farm in Bradford County, PA.

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.

Nestled along Springfield Road in a small valley amid the rural rolling hills of Bradford County farm country, you'll find the Kuhn Family Farm.

Randy and Tina Kuhn own and operate this 40-acre niche farm with the premise of working with the land instead of manipulating it for their own profit.

You can stop by the Kuhn farm three days a week and shop in their small barn-turned-farm store. One hundred percent Grass-fed Red Angus and Charlais Beefalo beef, pastured Tamworth and Duroc-Hamp pork, pastured poultry and eggs, holiday turkeys, cherries and raspberries, as well as sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, and pears, all raised on their 40 acres, are available when in season.

Strict rules of conduct to ensure the animal's health and well-being guide how the Kuhn's raise their animals. This makes for happier animals and better products for their customers.

In keeping with the theme of working with nature, the Kuhns have taken measures to improve water quality on the farm, and to limit excess sediment pollution. The farm was not in good shape seven years ago when they started farming the land.

"This farm was literally a cesspool when we moved here!" exclaimed Randy. "We tested the water in the pond and it wasn't fit to use for anything. Do NOT let your cattle drink out of it, they said." Randy was referring to the small pond on the downhill side of the farm. Unfortunately their pond was the collecting point for all of the farmland in the small valley.

The Kuhns enrolled seven acres of their farm into USDA's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The areas next to the pond and stream were planted with hardwood trees and shrubs to form a forested riparian buffer. This buffer helps filter nutrients and sediment that could make it to the stream and pond at times of heavy rainfall and runoff. It also enhances the habitat for wildlife.

Through CREP and funds provided by the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, the Kuhn's also installed a new well and livestock watering system away from the stream and pond. Keeping the livestock away from the pond and stream will further improve water quality.

Today, the pond is visibly healthier and "we even have deer coming up through the buffer to drink from the pond and they don't even keel over after they drink," Randy quips. It is also home for stocked fish that thrive in the healthy environment.

—Steve Smith and Kelly Donaldson

 Ensure that families like the Kuhns are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill! 


We're Halfway There: Tri-S Farms, Inc.

11-26-2013 1-22-49 PMThis 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."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Saxes are able to continue doing this good work on their farms.
Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Houseknecht Family Farm, Bradford County, PA

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The Houseknecht Family. Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

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.

Bill Houseknecht and his family live on and operate a 400-acre dairy farm in Bradford County that his father started 30 years ago.

Bill shares that "farming can be one of the hardest jobs out there--the hours are long, profits are narrow, and the tasks are physically demanding." But, he will also tell you that it is the most rewarding job, and the only one he and his family can imagine doing.

Long hours and narrow profits are two reasons why Bill is finding ways to make his farm operation more efficient. "Being extra conservative with valuable time and resources allows our business to succeed and gives my family time to do the other things we love--off of the farm--like coaching my kids' soccer team."

Farm Bill Helps Houseknecht Farm Reduce Manure Runoff
Funding provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and assistance from CBF's voucher program enabled Bill to do something he didn't think possible--store manure until he was ready to use it by installing a manure storage facility. The installation cost for a storage facility can easily top $100,000. "That would have been pretty hard to put out completely on our own," Bill says.

The new storage facility allows him to store nearly 1.4 million gallons of manure, roughly the equivalent to seven months worth of manure. "We used to have to spread two loads a day throughout the year. Now we store it until we need it, spreading it primarily in the spring and summer, and maybe a little bit in the fall if we've got something growing," Bill said. "It's been a tremendous labor savings for us, especially in the winter when you don't have to worry about spreading it on the snow."

IMG_0066
Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

Conservation Funding Programs Benefit All Pennsylvanians
It's not just farmers who are benefitting from Farm Bill conservation programs; the public also reaps the benefits of investing in farm improvements. "This farm is in the northern part of the Bay watershed, and like they say, everything flows downstream," said Steve Smith, Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "When farmers are better able to control runoff from their farm--water quality locally and downstream improves. So making these investments is a win for everyone."

Through CBF's Buffer Bonus Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Bill was able to plant forested stream buffers in his pastures and fence the livestock out of the stream that flows through his property to Mill Creek. This will not only improve herd healthy but also the stream quality.

—Steve Smith
CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist 

Ensure that people like the Senators are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill! 

 

 

 


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Saxe Family Farm, Sullivan County, PA

 

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Saxe Family Farm. Photo by Jennifer Johns/CBF Staff.

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.

For Mike Saxe Jr., a fourth-generation farmer, farming is more than a job: It's a way of life. The family farm, located in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, has been operating since the late 1800s. 

Together with his father, Mike Sr., they plant 150 acres of corn and 300 in hay annually, while managing another 200 acres of forest and pasture land. Twice a day, 365 days a year, they milk more than 140 cows with just one full-time employee to share the load.

It's a life he wouldn't trade for any other; but the demands are high. "If you're going to make this your life and your living, you've got to be efficient all the time," said Saxe. "The thing that's keeping people like us going is good management."

Farm Bill Helps Saxe Farm Make Improvements
That, he said, is where programs funded in large part by the federal Farm Bill come in. Funding programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, have enabled them to make on-farm improvements like the installation of a concrete barnyard and a manure storage facility. Both help to improve farm production and water quality. "The importance of those programs can't be understated," Saxe said.

Funding through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program was used to establish forested buffers along the streams that run through the property, which are tributaries to the North Branch Mehoopany Creek. These forested buffers will provide habitat for wildlife, help keep water temperatures cool, and filter pollutants before they reach the water. "Saxe Farms is a good example of how farmers can utilize these programs to not only improve their operation, but to also help the environment," said Stephanie Eisenbise, CBF's Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration Manager.

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Saxe Family Farm. Photo by Jennifer Johns/CBF Staff.

"The stream can have more biodiversity with a healthy forest surrounding it," says Jen Johns, Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "The tree root system traps nutrients that might be coming off of the fields, while also providing shade to cool the water. Both are critical to fish habitat and a healthy stream."

Saxe Farms has taken other measures, too. Roof gutters were installed on the barn to direct rainwater toward a grassy area, away from manure and a major walkway for the heifers. "None of these improvements would have been possible without the aid of agencies and groups like the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sullivan County Conservation District, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation," Saxe said.

A past recipient of the Sullivan County Conservation District's Conservationist of the Year Award, the Saxe's see themselves as stewards of the land. "It's easy to see that they care for the countryside and recognize their role in protecting it; that's important to them, especially given that Mike Jr.'s 13-year-old son is next in line on the farm."

—Jennifer Johns
CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist

Ensure that people like the Saxes are able to continue doing this good work on their farms.
Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!

 


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Valley Grassfed, Centre County, PA

11-18-2013 11-08-13 AMThis 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.

"Our business, Valley Grassfed, would not be in existence if it weren't for the implementation of these practices providing for lush pastured paddocks." That's the way Jenne Senator, Owner and Operations Manager of Valley Grassfed described the many conservation measures that she and her husband, Bob, recently implemented on their farm near Spring Mills, Pennsylvania.

The Senators raise 37 beef cattle, producing ten head yearly for market, and pride themselves on the quality of their beef. Their cattle feed only on lush pasture and hay. "Our animals are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, and all grains," said Jenne.

Bob and Jenne are conscious about more than just their cattle. They are also quite aware of the impact that farming has on the land, and have taken many steps to ensure their farm has minimal impacts on their local stream.

When they purchased the farm in 1984, they planted 75 percent of the land in crops using tillage, and pastured just 25 percent. Today, the Senators pasture 93 percent of the land, planting crops on only four acres. They utilize 50 acres for grazing. This has dramatically reduced erosion and runoff from their farm.

Funding and assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Chesapeake Bay Foundation has allowed their dream of being able to grow and sell their own beef to become a reality.

The Senators have installed streambank fencing, a livestock crossing, and a watering system all of which control the herd's access to the stream, while providing them with a clean source of drinking water. The watering system has enabled them to create pastures that are grazed on a rotational basis. Bob and Jenne aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and have planted more than 200 native trees and shrubs in their streamside buffer, doing the work themselves.

The Senators have also installed a grassed waterway, half an acre of pollinator habit, and have developed nutrient management and rotational grazing plans. USDA's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative funded all of the farm improvement practices.

—Frank Rohrer
CBF Field Buffer Specialist

Ensure that people like the Senators are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill! 


We're Halfway There: Hills Farm

10-8-2013 1-03-51 PMThis 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 farm. As a result of these and other 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.

Tim and Susie Brown own Hills Farm, 630 acres adjoining the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It's a historic farm dating back to 1747.

Hills Farm also has the distinction of being the first farm on Virginia's Eastern Shore to be protected with an open space easement and the first farm on the Shore to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

"I'm a big supporter of the Farm Bill," Tim Brown says of the federal legislation that has provided much of the funding for CREP and other farm conservation programs helping farmers protect soil and water resources. "I wish more people would take advantage of the conservation programs."

"We have wildlife buffers around all our crop fields; they filter nutrients out of runoff water, which helps clean up the Bay," he says. "The buffers were installed as part of the CREP program. They do more than filter runoff; they also provide habitat for wildlife."

Hills Farm has 100 acres of tillable land, but most of the farm is woodland and marsh. Of the 100 acres of tillable land, about half is planted in annual crops; the rest is either in CREP or in some sort of wildlife habitat, including 13 acres of impoundments.

Brown has a passion for ducks and wading birds and partnered with Ducks Unlimited to construct several holding ponds that can be planted with annual crops or allowed to grow natural plant foods for ducks, then flooded during the migration season. This provides much needed food for waterfowl migrating along the Eastern Shore, a major East Coast flyway.

"I'm proud that we use conservation practices that not only protect the Bay but also the wildlife that use the Bay and the Eastern Shore."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Browns are able to continue doing these innovative things on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill!


We're Halfway There: Old Mills Farm


OldMillsFarmThis 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 farm. As a result of these and other 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.

Dave and Tracy Lovell own and operate Old Mill Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They've been contract growers for Perdue Farms, Inc. for 21 years, operate 11 poultry houses, and produce two million broilers a year. That's a lot of chickens . . . and manure.

"I have a nutrient-management plan on my end and the farmer that takes my manure has one on his end," Dave Lovell said, referring to the farm plans that help ensure manure and fertilizer are managed in the most effective and conservative way. Nutrient management plans are key tools for protecting water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Tina Jerome, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the Eastern Shore, knows Old Mill Farms well. "The Lovells are very active in conservation. They have installed just about every practice available to them; they are model poultry farmers," she said.

And although Lovell's farm is not in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he knows the importance of conservation programs in protecting water quality wherever a farm is located. "I'm not required to have most of these BMPs, but I know they help me be a better steward of the land," Lovell says. "I think the Bay needs to be cleaned up, and these Farm Bill programs help us do that."

Lovell has several Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contracts with the NRCS that provide both funding and technical assistance for BMPs. He has installed specially designed wind breaks called vegetative environmental buffers around his 11 poultry houses. These buffers help filter out dust, nutrients, and other air pollutants.

The Lovells also installed concrete pads to reduce erosion on heavy use areas and have built two litter sheds and a composter. EQIP also funded a practice to add an amendment to the poultry litter that binds up even more ammonia in the manure.

Funding assistance provided in previous federal Farm Bills has made it possible for Lovell to install these conservation practices on his farm, he says.

"I couldn't do all these BMPs without help, and I hope these programs continue in the next Farm Bill."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Lovells are able to continue doing these innovative things on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill!