Over the past several years, our farm has taken four major conservation steps to reduce erosion and avoid harmful runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. We have implemented a no-till program, created a natural buffer around the creeks throughout our property, built a grass waterway and improved manure storage.
We have undertaken these steps for a specific reason. Our farm sits in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and several years ago, we began learning about how much top soil farmers in our area are losing into the Chesapeake Bay. This is not good for the farms or the bay. In the bay, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can create “dead zones” where there is not enough oxygen for diverse plant and animal life to thrive. We began to learn about how we could help both our farm and the Chesapeake by putting our farm on a conservation plan.
The first step, five or six years ago, was to implement a no-till program. This leaves the soil undisturbed, and it has drastically reduced the amount of erosion on our farm. The crops produce just as well or better. As the soil begins to acclimate to the no-till program, beneficial organisms in the soil begin to thrive.
Recently, we got to see “before and after” photos of our farm! The government had an aerial photo of the farm on record, and even though this was not affiliated with our conservation work, we had an opportunity to compare this old photo with a new one, and we could definitely see the difference in erosion—it is a marked improvement!
A side benefit is that it’s been very labor-saving for us. We use custom operators to do most of the planting and harvesting. Though there isn’t any cost-savings, we do appreciate the time we can spend on activities other than field work.
Stream Bank Fencing
Two years ago we started a Conservation Reserve Extended Program (CREP), which helps farmers create natural “buffer zones” around their streams to improve the health of the water. We looked into a program from Dr. Bern Sweeney, a University of Pennsylvania Biology professor whose freshwater research firm has even guided the U.S. government and other countries who turned to the firm for solutions to complicated water issues.
We were very impressed with this program, which guided us as we planted trees along the creek. Even though some might see stream bank fencing as wasted space—the cows are not allowed in the creek except for a specific place for crossing—we have seen the benefits. We learned about the science behind stream back fencing. Shading the creek, for instance, creates an environment for helpful organisms and healthy bacteria that can’t survive in warmer water.
We have loved what this program has done for the health of the stream. We’ve seen a significant increase in vegetation and wildlife along the stream. Already, we’ve seen more mink, muskrats, ducks and frogs. In a couple years, there will be wildlife like we’ve never seen!
Our third improvement has been to build a grass waterway. We built a 40-foot wide space for water to run without impacting other parts of the field. This also helps to channel our neighbors’ runoff on its way to the stream and has made a huge difference in the amount of erosion we have seen.
Our most recent conservation change has been to improve our farm’s manure storage, which we put in place two years ago. This collects manure in a way that is safe and keeps it from ending up as run-off, and also allows us to utilize it as fertilizer for our crops.
We are thrilled with the way the conservation plan has been working and all the positive changes we have witnessed as we’ve evaluated the health of our farm.
We are committed to environmental issues and to operating our farm in a way that protects the health of future generations. Water is easy to take for granted, but we know that many cities are already dealing with problems related to their drinking water. Putting these “tools” in place is our way of keeping the water clean for others as it moves through our property.