The Lead

Lancaster Co. agricultural conservation project ‘unique’ in its approach to meet Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction goals

By: - April 14, 2022 1:07 pm

PA Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding speaks during a press conference to highlight Wolf Administration investments facilitating on-farm and community conservation management, at Welsh Vista Farms on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The Conservation Excellence Grant (CEG) program has invested more than $4 million in 68 conservation projects since 2019, strengthening community-based conservation efforts across six counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

State and local agriculture officials are celebrating a public-private partnership in Lancaster County that they say will help Pennsylvania meet its Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction goals, and promote agricultural conservation practices in the commonwealth’s farming communities. 

In Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, partners from the Lancaster Conservation District, Lancaster Farmland Trust, Team Ag Consulting, Stroud Water Research Center, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay say they have taken a “boots on the ground” approach to helping local farmers embrace more sustainable farming practices by visiting farms, answering farmers’ questions and using other local farms as teachable examples.

“If you want to start a conversation with the farmers, you get on the farm,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

Utilizing the state Conservation Excellence Grant, a part of the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill designed to support farmers developing on-farm conservation practices, the partnering organizations said they have been able to provide local farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with educational, financial and technical support for conservation best practices. 

To date, the project has reduced annual nitrogen runoff from area farms by nearly 25,000 pounds and phosphorus by about 1,300 pounds, according to Lancaster Farmland Trust. 

The commonwealth needs to shed a total of 32.5 million pounds of nitrogen and a little less than a million pounds of phosphorus from Bay-bound waterways to meet the requirements outlined in the Clean Water Blueprint, the 2010 multi-state plan to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has previously said that more than 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s outstanding cuts are from agriculture.

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Twenty-one percent of the state’s Chesapeake Bay reductions need to come from Lancaster County, Chris Thompson, Lancaster County’s conservation district manager, said, adding that the figure is “a heavy lift.”

Calling the local efforts to educate farmers on conservation best practices and provide support for implementation “extraordinary,” Redding celebrated the “culture of stewardship and agriculture” in the project.

“I haven’t met a farmer yet who doesn’t want to do it,” Redding said. “It is a question of seasons, it is a question of time, it is a question of money.

Redding also noted the “coequal” nature of achieving the Chesapeake Bay water quality goals while also developing viable farms. 

“You won’t get the first without the second,” Redding said. “We have to be serious about making sure any packages that we present fit those coequal goals.”

With that in mind, Redding said that “there is agreement around conservation and what we have to do.”

Redding added that environmental stewardship in farming is an important part of farm legacy.

“These are not decisions we make that are for this season, or this year or maybe even this lifetime,” Redding said. “They’re really generational decisions and that’s what you see playing out here.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.