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News Release

Report Shows Voluntary Conservation Works for Bay Health

Blaine Delaney

State Conservationist Jack Bricker confers with Gerry Silver prior to the release announcement for the new CEAP report at Silver Ridge Farm.

Richmond, VA, December 6, 2013 – A recently released report from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that Bay farmers’ voluntary conservation efforts have had a significant impact on reducing the amount of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus leaving cultivated croplands.

The Conservation Effects Assessment Project, or CEAP, highlights the positive impacts of producers, like Gerry Silver in Stafford County, who are adopting conservation systems approaches to control erosion and trap runoff from their fields. Silver is the sole proprietor of a Virginia Century Farm where three generations of his family are adapting their operation to add value to the land while diversifying income opportunities.
He worked with NRCS and its network of conservation partners like the Tri-County/City SWCD to implement rotational grazing and install buffers on his pastureland. He also installed a grassed waterway to address gully erosion on one of his crop fields.

“Virginia is a key player in this effort with targeted, science-based conservation and collaborative approaches that are making impressive gains in protecting and restoring the Bay,” State Conservationist Jack Bricker said.

“When it comes to meeting Virginia’s water quality goals, partnerships are key to our success,” adds Richard Street, At-Large Member of the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. “USDA, NRCS, and state agencies need to work together to assist local jurisdictions and governments to improve the health of the Bay. In Spotsylvania County, we took our cue from farmers in using a voluntary approach to conservation activities in urban settings with low impact development.”

The CEAP report highlights a wider acceptance of many popular conservation practices. For example, some form of erosion control has now been adopted on 97 percent of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed’s 4.35 million cropland acres. This statistic does not mean that all acres are fully treated to address sediment and nutrient losses, but it is a positive indication of a willingness by farmers to do their part to help restore the Bay watershed, Bricker said.

Bay farmers are also recognizing the positive benefits of using cover crops in their cropping systems. Use of cover crops at least one out of every four years has quadrupled in less than a decade with land in cover crops increasing from 12 to 52 percent of cropland acres since 2006.

Silver was an early adopter of conservation tillage with all cropland in no-till for more than 25 years. He is now keeping cover crops on all land where he actively grows commodity grains to reduce erosion and improve water holding capacity.

The changes don’t stop there, however. NRCS financial and technical assistance are helping landowners like Cliff Miller in Rappahannock County transition to a new way of farming. Miller has changed his relationship with the land and used conservation practices to better manage it. He actually took a fertile crop field out of production to restore natural wetlands, riparian buffers and trees to help improve the health of the Thornton River, which runs through his property on the way to the Rappahannock River.

“Virginia is moving forward to take soil management to the next level, including actively working to increase adoption of nutrient management practices,” says Bricker. “As more agricultural producers embrace the concept that the ‘soil is alive,’ we know that they will seek to implement these four Soil Health principles to improve soil health and water quality: keep soil covered, minimize soil disturbance, maximize living roots, and energize with diversity.”

CEAP was designed to quantify the impact of conservation efforts on private lands. The first CEAP cultivated cropland report for the Bay was released in 2011 and included data from farmer surveys conducted from 2003 to 2006. This year’s release is the first CEAP cropland report to revisit a particular region, and it includes data from an updated farmer survey in 2012. These statistics show that producers have helped significantly lower nitrogen and phosphorus leaving fields (48.6 million pounds and 7.1 million pounds respectively). Sediment losses are even more impressive, lowered by 60 percent or about 15.1 million tons per year.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed touches six states and is home to 17 million people and more than 83,800 farms and ranches. Agriculture contributes about $10 billion annually to the region’s economy. Conservation practices have other environmental benefits, such as sequestering carbon and making farms more resilient to extreme weather events linked to climate change.

Download a fact sheet, a summary or the full report. Learn more about USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project.