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!

Farm Bill Promotes Clean Waters and Vibrant Farms

The following op-ep originally appeared on Centre Daily Times last week.

NRCSVA02034Photo courtesy of NRCS. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many partners call on Congress to swiftly pass a federal Farm Bill upon their return in just a few days.

Before leaving for summer recess, both the chambers passed their own versions, which now must be reconciled before being signed into law by the president.

While the crisis overseas must certainly be dealt with, we ask that Congress also address many crucial concerns back home—such as the Farm Bill.

Specifically, we hope U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson will ensure that the final bill supports Pennsylvania farmers and clean water by robustly funding vital Farm Bill conservation programs.

These programs help our farmers to make their operations more viable, to improve herd health and to conserve their soil and resources while helping to improve the quality of our streams and rivers.

When Congress returns Monday, the media and public attention related to the Farm Bill will surely again focus on nutrition and crop insurance programs. Together, these programs make up nearly 80 percent of the Farm Bill spending, compared with just 5.7 percent in spending, nationwide, for conservation programs that count for our local streams and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania farmers manage thousands of acres, and their day-to-day decisions about tilling, fertilizing, pasturing, and planting have a huge impact on our environment.

We call on Thompson and the entire Pennsylvania delegation to recognize the critical role conservation funding serves in helping farmers make those decisions.

Thompson has the opportunity to demonstrate a leadership role in conservation and clean water efforts by supporting our farmers and these vital programs when Congress returns.

Farm Bill conservation programs help farmers throughout Pennsylvania to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution through the implementation of crucial, yet voluntary, conservation efforts.

These practices also help improve the long-term production potential for the farmer by keeping the soil on the farm and by improving herd health.

In Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed from 2010 through 2012, these conservation programs helped our farmers make about 100,000 acres of on-farm improvements.

The programs have a proven track record of clean water successes, and if adequately supported will help Pennsylvania reach our state clean water goals. It is crucial for Pennsylvania farmers to have adequate federal support for the on-farm practices that count toward meeting those goals.

The on-farm conservation practices supported by the Farm Bill are tangible practices or projects that include improving barn and building downspouts and treatment of rainwater to keep soil and excess nutrients from running into streams; improving barnyard areas to lessen soil erosion; fencing cattle from streams and instead providing them with a consistent and healthy drinking water source; planting trees and native vegetation along streams in order to filter pollution before it reaches the stream; planting cover crops during the off-season to protect fields from erosion; and planting crops for wildlife instead of leaving them fallow.

These practices are vital for clean water, but also for the thousands of Pennsylvania farmers who feed millions of Americans. Farmers are stewards of the land and the vast majority take that role seriously.

But, in many cases, farmers are delaying these investments because of the lack of federal assistance in the Farm Bill’s Conservation Program budget. Demand is far greater than supply, with only one in three farms that apply for conservation assistance receiving it.

Pennsylvanians deserve clean water, healthy communities, and strong and vibrant economies for today and for generations to come.

The conservation programs in the Farm Bill can help.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Take action now and tell Congress you want strong funding for conservaction programs in the Farm Bill!

We're Halfway There: Morningside Farm Successes

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 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.

Tom Eavers and his wife Kaye own and operate Morningside Farm. Photo by Bobby Whitescarver. 

“You won’t believe this, but ever since I put those waterers in I haven’t had a single case of pinkeye,” exclaimed Tom Eavers, beef cattle farmer in Mount Sidney, Va. He was referring to the freeze-proof livestock watering stations he installed after fencing his cows out of a wetland area and a stream.

Eavers and his wife, Kaye, own and operate Morningside Farm, a 120-acre beef cattle farm in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Augusta County. They run a cow-calf business and a grass-finished beef operation on land in the Middle River watershed, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

To get the watering projects done, they utilized the expertise of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and funding from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement (CBWI) programs.

“We did it for the health of the cows and for our customers,” Eavers said. “It’s not good for business to see a bunch of cows up to their bellies in muck and mud, and it’s not good for the cows either. We no longer have pinkeye or foot problems since we fenced the cows out of the wet."

He continued, “People today are more health conscious and care about the environment. I guarantee, when people see my cows and clean water and the farmer next door has cows knee deep in muck and water, they are going to buy their beef from me."

Charlie Ivins, District Conservationist for the NRCS, worked with Mr. Eavers and called the projects "the perfect candidate for the CBWI program. These programs continue to become more flexible as we learn more about customer needs."

The CBWI program also had funds to reseed the Eavers’ pastures with clover and add some cross fencing and an additional watering trough to enhance the existing rotational grazing system. He’s happy with the projects and everyone who helped get them installed.

—Bobby Whitescarver  

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

Ensure that people like the Eavers 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!

The Key to Clean Water: Trees and Streams

David WiseOver the last 15 years, our restoration program has assisted more than 5,000 landowners in Pennsylvania in reducing water pollution and improving stream health by planting forested buffers. A few weeks ago, our Facebook fans asked CBF's Watershed Restoration Manager David Wise questions about the Pennsylvania restoration program and the benefits of planting trees along streams. See what he had to say below...

Facebook fan Timothy Shultz asked: Are there any plans for more stream restoration projects in Lancaster, Pennsylvania? We seem to only have two or three plantings a year. With hundreds of miles of streams, it seems we could have a few more plantings a year, given the funding and volunteers.

David Wise: Tim, thanks for your question. There’s a bit of history here. In the past, we were a pretty small operation and the level of restoration we were doing made it very hard to do volunteer plantings (which are enormously energy intensive) and take care of our wholesale restoration program. The good news is that we now have some additional staff and with the additional manpower we have, I think we are much better positioned to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers while still working on restoration at the wholesale level. I think you can expect good things, and we are far better positioned than we were 10 years ago.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked: What sorts of nutrients can buffers offer to stream animals?

D.W.: I’m going to have to pivot on this one. The real connection between trees and nutrients in streams is that nutrients are usually a pollutant in most local waterways. They are good in small amounts—they are necessary. But in large amounts they are the primary pollutants in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. So, nutrients—too many is bad. The connection between trees and streams—by placing trees along streams, those trees are foundational to creating an environment in the stream that allows organisms in the stream to prosper and thrive. The things that live in the stream will actually remove a lot of the nitrogen and phosphorus and help tie up those nutrients so they don't move down the system.

The real nugget here is that by giving stream organisms the [right] temperatures, the type of food, and quantity of food that really make them thrive, those organisms are in a great position to do an awful lot of water quality work by removing excess nutrients from the stream system. A stream that has trees on its banks can remove two to nine times more nitrogen from the stream than a stream without trees on its banks.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked a second question: What are some indicators of poor stream health that occur after the destruction of a forrested buffer?

D.W.: The first indicator and predictor is whether there are trees along the stream. Trees have such an enormous role in the basic ecology of Pennsylvania streams. The presence of trees would be a primary indication that a stream is heading in the right direction. Some of the indicators that you would see in the water itself; if you are seeing a lot of stringy algae that would be an indicator of excess nutrients and light levels in the stream. Most Pennsylvania streams are adapted to living under the shade of trees. The whole ecosystem is really set up to thrive best under those shady conditions. 

Many thanks for your questions!

Cows and Clean Water, Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the third, second, and first parts.

Landes plantingCBF tree plantings on Darrel Landes farm along Muddy Creek. Photo by CBF Staff.

Both the trust developed by the outreach process and the technical assistance offered by the state and federal partners played key roles in participation by the Old Order Mennonites in the Muddy Creek and Dry River watersheds. Even though the pollution limits applied just as much to them as to their less conservative neighbors, many chose to invest their own money instead of government cost-share funds to upgrade their conservation practices and develop nutrient management plans for both crop fields and livestock operations. They have, however, accepted the technical assistance offered by NRCS, the Shenandoah Valley SWCD, and CBF. It is testimony to the Mennonites’ faith, their stewardship ethic, and the encouragement of their bishops that these farmers paid the full cost to install the recommended conservation practices, which included about 80 percent of the streambank livestock exclusion fencing installed to date.

It is worth noting, however, that the other farmers along Muddy Creek who have accepted cost-share funding have also willingly contributed their shares of their projects’ costs. One particularly important portion of the cost-share funds made available to them has come through NRCS from special Chesapeake Bay program sections of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Muddy Creek’s condition improved significantly from 2001-2006, thanks to the whole-farm combinations of Best Management Practices installed then. They included dairy loafing lot systems, 10 miles of stream fencing to exclude livestock, grazing systems to protect and enhance pastures, 1,200 acres of cover crops for small grains, and side-dress application of nitrogen on corn. In addition, the project addressed rural human wastewater issues with 13 septic system repairs and replacements, 30 septic tank pump-outs, and the installation of five alternative waste treatment systems. Improvement has continued since 2006, as farmers along the creek have worked steadily to extend, enhance, and maintain these conservation practices, both with and without cost-share funding.

Their efforts have produced one major success: Muddy Creek and lower Dry River are no longer impaired for excessive nitrate. Levels of that pollutant have consistently stayed around 6 mg/l in Muddy Creek and 4 mg/l in Dry River, with no sample in excess of the drinking water standard (10 mg/l) since 2004, despite some years of heavy runoff that would previously have produced continuous violations.

Muddy Creek is still impaired for E. coli bacteria and benthic invertebrates. Though the results of in-the-field water quality testing indicate clear improvements, they also suggest caution, as E. coli violation rates continue to run over 50-60 percent in the creek's watershed, still a long way from the maximum 10.5 percent violation rate necessary to de-list the water and call it fully supporting for recreational use. The job has taken a decade so far. The great cooperation over that time between many partners—both public and private—deserves high praise, but it is important to understand and be realistic about the effort and the resources necessary to turn around waterway ecosystems that have been (largely unintentionally) treated very roughly for over a century. 

—John Page Williams

Stay tuned for the fifth and final part of the "Cows and Clean Water Series" next week!

Cows and Clean Water, Part 3

This is the third in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the second and first parts.

Landes 1Darrel Landes farm along Muddy Creek. Photo by CBF Staff.

Muddy Creek, Rockingham County, VA

With its fertile Shenandoah Valley soils, Rockingham is Virginia’s most valuable agricultural county, especially for livestock: beef, dairy, and poultry. Unfortunately, the concentration of livestock on the county's rolling land has led to significant nonpoint source nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the streams and creeks that feed the Shenandoah River system. A partnership of farmers, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations (including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation), and private contractors has quietly produced a solid success story for several tributaries of the North River over the past 15 years. There are several elements in this success that echo the Mill Creek project.

In the 1990s, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) placed Rockingham's Muddy Creek and Dry River on the Commonwealth’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for violating the nitrate public drinking water standard of 10 milligrams per liter, since the Town of Bridgewater draws from the North River below Dry River's confluence with it, and for violating the E.coli bacteria water quality standard. In addition, Muddy Creek has a benthic (streambed aquatic life) impairment because of sediment and phosphorous pollution.

Thus DEQ began developing a pollution reduction plan for these two waterways. Implementation began in 2001 with installation of agricultural and residential Best Management Practices (BMPs) on farms through a partnership between willing landowners, DEQ, the VA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), VA Cooperative Extension, the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, the Rockingham County Farm Bureau, the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and several food-processing companies. More recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia Office and Watershed Stewardship, Inc. have joined the partnership.

At the beginning of the project, a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment allowed DEQ and DCR to conduct public outreach in planning the nuts and bolts of implementation. This outreach played a critical role in building support for the project, just as outreach did 300 miles to the north on Mill Creek. A DEQ/DCR report noted that, "Effective outreach is as much a matter of building relationships and trust as it is of providing pertinent information...[It] means adapting to the schedules, customs, and rhythms of the community. It involves flexibility and the willingness to operate within a give-and-take relationship."

—John Page Williams

Stay tuned for part four tomorrow which discusses how fencing, grazing systems, and other innovative methods helped improve the Muddy Creek watershed.

Landes 3Darrel Landes farm along Muddy Creek. Photo by CBF Staff.

Cows and Clean Water, Part 2

This is the second in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the first part here.

  Clear Stream Through Buffer IIIPlanting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along streams help absorb and filter harmful pollutants running off from the fields before they enter our waters. Photo courtesy of John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

Publication of the TMDL brought availability of cost-share funding to the farmers for conservation practices from Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, which provides federal support to help state and local agencies focus on nonpoint source pollution problems. In the beginning of the project, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Farm Stewardship Program provided matching funds for restoration of forested streamside buffers.

In the middle of the decade, many farmers also qualified for cost-share assistance from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement and Environmental Quality Incentives Programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (CREP and EQIP) and from Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener Program (Department of Environmental Protection). USDA also offered assistance from its Bradford County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff.  CBF added technical assistance from local stream buffer specialists Jennifer Johns and Steve Smith.

Jen Johns grew up on a sheep/beef/veal/hog farm in nearby Sugar Run.  She has academic training in both environmental science and social work. “It’s worth taking time to build relationships and network with the community,” said Johns. “We have good teamwork between NRCS, the District, and CBF. Most people don’t care who works for whom, as long as we get the projects done right.” 

To restore Mill Creek, the solutions were agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs), especially nutrient management planning, excluding livestock from streams, and managing manure.  Over the next ten years, Lovegreen, Johns, Smith, and the other team members visited all 13 of the farms to explain the ecological need for BMPs and, in many cases, their advantages for the health of the farms’ cows. Working with each farmer, they developed a plan specific to the operation’s needs. The local, person-to-person approach was the key to developing trust and convincing all of Mill Creek’s farmers to join the project. 

Then the work began. Virtually every project included streambank fencing and associated facilities, like alternative water sources and stabilized stream crossings; planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along the stream courses; building manure storage facilities that allowed the farmers to avoid having to spread manure on frozen ground during Bradford’s long winters; stabilizing barnyard and heavy use areas; and setting up milkhouse waste treatment systems using constructed wetlands. In a couple of cases, the project partners helped farmers build new barns to move their cows away from the stream.

Finally, the team used the Natural Stream Channel Design approach to restore two deeply-eroded sections of Mill Creek that were contributing the bulk of the sediment going into the lake.

By 2005, monitoring studies made it clear that the restoration was working. Phosphorus and sediment levels had dropped 52 percent and 59 percent, respectively, far enough to comply with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (TMDL). They have stayed low since. Everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief, celebrated briefly, but then got back to work, because there was one important problem remaining: the lake’s bottom had over time caught so much phosphorus that the pollutant would periodically re-suspend with changing water temperatures.

The lake has not yet met its pollution limit requirements, but it is getting close, because Mike Lovegreen and his team have worked out a system that siphons water from the lake bottom into a constructed wetland below the dam. Look for more improvement over the next couple of years as this wetland scrubs the lake water.

—John Page Williams

Stay tuned for how forested streamside buffers and other innovative methods helped restore other watersheds.

Constructed Wetland IConstructed wetlands like these also help filter out harmful pollutants from our waters. Photo courtesy of John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

We're Halfway There: Improving Soil and Water Quality on Mountain Valley Farm

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 and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

BazzleMike and Beth Bazzle own and operate Mountain Valley Farm, a beef cattle operation in Rockingham County, Virginia. But they had a big problem.

“Silt and runoff from heavy erosion areas were contaminating my well,” said Mike, holding up a nasty-looking sample of discolored ground water.

So the Bazzles teamed up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to make conservation programs work for their farm in the Smith Creek watershed of the Shenandoah Valley.

Bazzle installed stream fencing and planted vegetated filter strips along his stream banks, created livestock crossings, and put in additional troughs and cross-fencing to reduce polluted runoff from leaving his farm. He is now in the process of constructing confined feeding facilities for his livestock to further reduce pollution and to capture nutrients for later use on the farm.

Cory Guilliams, district conservationist for NRCS said, “We’ve got some really good programs to help farmers reduce pollution and improve the soil and water on farms, but there were some missing components Mr. Bazzle needed to make everything work for him. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation came through with some private funding to make it all fit together.”

“We could not have done all the projects to improve our water and our cattle grazing facilities had it not been for these programs,” said Mike, an independent sales representative for Vigortone Ag Products and Accelerated Genetics. “I can rest at night knowing we’ve got clean water to drink and the water leaving this farm is so much cleaner.”

Farming tips for improving soil and water quality:
Keeping livestock out of streams has proven herd health benefits. It is also a clear sign to downstream neighbors and other community members of your ethics and environmental stewardship. Try these options to keep cattle healthy by keeping them out of streams:

  • Off-stream watering systems
  • Stream fencing
  • Stream crossings
  • Buffer strips
  • Rotational Grazing

Both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the state agricultural best management cost-share programs can help cover expenses for certain livestock stream exclusion projects that are built to specification.

—Bobby Whitescarver  

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

Photo caption: Mike Bazzle holding a jar of his well water before Best Management Practices were installed. Photo by Bobby Whitescarver.

Farm Bill Is Key to Cleaning up Chesapeake Bay

The following appeared in Lynchburg's The News & Advance earlier this week.

An early morning on the farm. Photo courtesy CBF.

Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act,” commonly known as the Farm Bill. Thanks to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, Jim Webb and other U.S. senators from Chesapeake Bay states, the bill includes measures that ensure farmers in the Bay region receive critical cost-share dollars and technical assistance to reduce farm runoff pollution.

Much of the poor water quality in Virginia’s streams, rivers, and the Bay is directly related to an excess of fertilizer and other pollutants running off the land when it rains. This runoff pollution causes algal blooms, creates “dead zones” of oxygen-starved water, kills fish, crabs and oysters and results in lost economic opportunities.

Much of the excess fertilizer comes from agriculture. Despite farmers’ progress in limiting erosion and fertilizer runoff over the past several years, there is still more to be done.

That’s why in 2008, Bay state senators and representatives worked hard to ensure the last Farm Bill contained the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, a provision that guaranteed $188 million specifically for farm conservation programs that reduce runoff in the Bay region.

This year, however, agriculture committees in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have sought to strip that funding from the 2012 Farm Bill now before Congress. While everyone is rightly concerned about reducing federal spending, zeroing out conservation dollars that reduce water pollution is counterproductive.

Why? Water pollution kills jobs and drags down the economy. Consider the dramatic decline of Virginia’s once robust seafood industry and the billions of dollars in lost revenues as a result.

Consider the slow demise of the waterfront communities that depended upon once-abundant oysters, fish and crabs. Consider the public health threats and lost tourism and recreation dollars when summer beaches are closed because of bacteria pollution. And consider the growing costs to localities to provide clean drinking water, prevent flooding and treat wastewater.

Dirty water hurts fisheries, people and the economy. Cutting clean water programs jeopardizes our quality of life and our children’s future economic prosperity.

On the flipside, clean streams and rivers and a restored Bay are economic engines: people want to live, work, and play by clean waterways, they want to catch and eat the seafood from them, they want to vacation beside them, and businesses seek to locate near them.

Further, the very conservation programs that reduce pollution and clean up our waterways create new jobs and new economic activity.

A University of Virginia study concluded that every public dollar spent on conservation programs that reduce farm pollution produces $1.56 in new economic activity and, if implemented across Virginia to meet Bay cleanup goals, such investments could create 12,000 jobs of at least a year’s duration.  

That’s why all who care about clean water and a healthy economy should thank Sens. Warner and Webb and their Bay state colleagues for successfully restoring conservation funding for Bay region farmers in the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill.

Now it’s the House of Representatives’ turn, and last week, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen introduced H.R. 6068 aimed at providing similar conservation funding in the House version of the Farm Bill. The bipartisan bill has 16 co-sponsors, including Virginia Reps. Scott Rigell, Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran and Bobby Scott.

Virginia’s other House members—Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt, Eric Cantor, Randy Forbes and Morgan Griffin—need to sign on, too, and support clean water and Virginia farmers.

Virginia has set ambitious but achievable goals to reduce pollution in local streams and rivers as part of its Chesapeake Bay restoration blueprint. Reducing farm runoff by approximately half is a crucial part of the state’s plan. Virginia simply won’t succeed in providing clean water to its citizens and restoring the Chesapeake Bay without this important conservation assistance in the Farm Bill.

The time for all of Virginia’s members of Congress to step up is now.

—Ann Jennings
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Learn more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best hope for a save Bay!

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 bobby.whitescarver@gettingmoreontheground.com.