USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service released its updated Conservation Effects Assessment Project report, drawing accolades from many quarters. "This is a great day for agriculture," said NACD President Earl Garber. "The CEAP report clearly demonstrates that producers' proactive, voluntary use of good conservation practices is paying off in a big way in the watershed," says Earl Garber, National Association of Conservation Districts president.
It also recognizes the importance of farmer partnerships with soil and water conservation districts and funding under the current Farm Bill. "Title II Farm Bill programs have an incredibly strong return-on-investment," Garber adds. "Farm Bill conservation practices have clearly contributed to these successes."
Farmers deserve the credit
In brief, the study found that since 2006, conservation practices applied by farmers and landowners are reducing nitrogen leaving fields by 48.6 million pounds a year, or 26%. Phosphorus reductions amount to 7.1 million pounds, or 46%, again compared to 2006.
Voluntary conservation practices have also lowered the estimated average edge-of-field losses of sediment, or eroded soil, by about 15.1 million tons a year, or 60%. That's enough soil to fill 150,000 railcars stretching more than 1,700 miles.
The majority of the conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay were made possible through Farm Bill conservation programs, which are now expired, notes Garber. And he points out that the results correlate with the findings of an NACD study done in 2011. It identified 25% to 30% more conservation on the land than previously recorded.
Out of touch?
Two days before release of NRCS's report, Chesapeake Bay Foundation's senior water quality scientist, Beth McGee, issued a highly critical report of agriculture's progress as measured by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Bay Barometer – in all likelihood knowing about the CEAP report. This, after Hurricane Sandy's huge impact on the Bay and its watershed tributaries:
"Because some factors influencing restoration progress, like rainfall and lag times, are beyond our control, we must focus on factors we can control. Efforts to restore wetlands and forested buffers are far behind what's needed to achieve the 2025 goals
"Local jurisdictions need increased support to reduce urban and suburban polluted runoff, the only major pollution source continuing to grow. And more progress must be made to reduce pollution from agriculture, septic systems, air and sewage.
"The need to increase the pace of pollution reduction should be a 'call to action' for the upcoming meeting of the Executive Council." The Chesapeake Bay Program's Executive Council meets next week.