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These Farmers Are Leading the Way to a Saved Bay

Virtual diaryThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation has long maintained that healthy, well-managed farms are among the Chesapeake Bay’s best friends. That’s why it is so heartening to see some of the best farmers in the Bay watershed spotlighted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in its new online series called Chesapeake Bay Virtual Diary.

As the NRCS website says, there are hundreds of conservation stories in the Bay watershed, and each of them starts with a plan by a farmer who wants to do the right thing for his farm and for natural resources. The Virtual Diary series focuses on four such farmers in Virginia.

"For Peyton and Myra Yancey of Rockingham County, VA, conservation is not just about protecting theYancey_portrait Chesapeake Bay. It is the preservation of a family legacy dating back four generations," NRCS says.

The Yanceys own a 225-acrea farm in Rockingham County, land that has been in their family for four generations. They rent much of it for beef cattle and poultry operations. But the land also is home to the headwaters of the 67,000-acrea Smith Creek watershed. More than a decade ago, Smith Creek was added to Virginia’s “dirty waters list” because of sediment and bacteria pollution.

“I kept hearing about how agriculture was polluting the creek and thought we ought to look into this and see what we could do,” Peyton Yancey told NRCS. “If we don’t preserve the land and water, there won’t be anything left for our grandchildren.”

“We have always been good stewards, and we believe in this,” added Myra. “We actually had to go into retirement savings to do this project.”

Earlier this year, the Yanceys began working with NRCS and partners from Farm Service Agency, CBF, and the Shenandoah Valley Soil & Water Conservation District to plan how they could install conservation practices to reduce runoff from the farm and improve water quality in Smith Creek. Click here for the rest of their story.

Nelsonportrait_hpPhillip Nelson purchased a 75-acre farm in Appomattox County from family members and manages a herd of 50 beef cattle. He soon noticed that the land had some problems.

“We had two or three dry summers a few years ago, and the cows stood in the stream all day long,” he tells NRCS. “It was sickening to think that they were actually drinking that water. Then, we would have a big thunderstorm and the stream would look pretty and clean again. You have to wonder where all that manure and sediment goes. That convinced me to look into working with NRCS.”

You can read here how Nelson is working to reduce pollution from his farm, part of the James River watershed.

And you can read more Chesapeake Bay Virtual Diaries here. These farm stories are living proof that the Bay region can have healthy, robust farms and clean water, too. That’s a potent combination for the region’s economy and natural resources.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

All photos courtesy of NRCS


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Those farmers that practice good conservation are good to highlight but they are very few and far between. They represent a very small percentage of all farmers. EVERY farmer should be in baseline compliance with a few conservation practices. All farmers should have high quality conservation plans, nutrient or manure management plans; address the runoff from animal concentration areas (ACA - barnyards, feedlots, sacrifice lots etc.), buffer all streams, exclude livestock from streams with fencing, off-streams watering facilities and stabilized stream crossings; and soil loss from cropland should be at "T" or less.

To the contrary, most farmers are well aware of and practicing many BMP's that improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Putting down farmers will only lead to less acceptance of the many practices that are already in place. The Virginia State Legislature should be reprimanded at all fronts until they relinquish control of the menhaden harvest (raping) of their waters to the proper authorities. So what if 250 or so people need to find some new jobs. Those jobs will be created from the newly replenished healthy waters of the state. Eliminating over fishing by industrial and commercial fishermen is the proper way to improve our waters.

Agriculture is the largest industry in Virginia, Menhaden fishing pales in comparison and has a much greater and direct detrimental effect on our waters.

Municipalities have an even larger roll to play in cleaning up the bay by cleaning up the effluent of their waste water treatment plants.

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