Bay 101: Agriculture

Bay 101: Agriculture


Harvesting the crops in the fall it’s always a satisfying time because you’re reaping the rewards of the work you put in over the year. Farming’s been part of my family for generations Agriculture is a very important part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It ranges anywhere from up in New York State, all the way down into lower Virginia. As far as its impacts on the Bay itself, it is one of the largest contributors for
nutrients and sediment. Nutrients and sediment can harm the Bay in a lot of different ways. They inhibit positive aquatic life that we want to see there, such as the growth of rockfish or crabs. [Jennifer Volk] Having too many nutrients is offsetting the natural balance within the ecosystem. We’ve had too much nitrogen and phosphorus leaving our landscape from not just agriculture but also from the urban sector as well. And it’s getting into the water. And there it’s fueling the growth of algae. And it’s cutting off the light supply to the beneficial submerged aquatic vegetation. At times there are very low levels of dissolved oxygen so it is a problem for fish and other types of aquatic life. [Dubin] Even though agriculture is one of the largest sources of nutrients and sediment to the Bay, it’s also served as one of the largest sectors that’s made reductions over the past thirty-some years. If you look across the landscape you might see less tillage going on than we have in the past, more no-till systems, planting of cover crops, and forage crops during the winter months. We’re seeing the use of animal waste facilities for holding livestock manures from production areas. We’re seeing the use of nutrient management plans to more appropriately apply nutrients on crop fields and we’re also seeing the better management of production areas such as poultry barns or dairy facilities, not only for animal welfare but also for reducing the loss of nutrients from those areas into local waterways. We’re on a dairy operation here today, looking at some of the farm practices that are being utilized by this farm family. With the nice weather we’re having the operation is spreading liquid dairy manure. The manure generated is utilized as an important nutrient source for crop production. Nutrients are transferred from feed to dairy waste back to the fields again for a fertilizer source. We’re standing in a field that’s been harvested for corn silage. But in addition, it’s also been planted into a small grain crop. And that winter small grain is going to supplement the existing ground cover. That’s going to help keep this field from eroding and losing soil nutrients. It’s also going to uptake the leftover nutrients from the previous crop. You’ll also see, we have an area that’s along this ravine that’s been planted with trees. This is forming a riparian buffer around the facilities here to protect the environment from nutrients that might be coming off these pave areas and absorbing those nutrients through grass and the trees that have been planted there. They’re a living buffer. They basically buffer those streams from the around them. Whether it be an agricultural setting like this or it could be an urban setting as well. Once these trees become more mature, they start shading the stream. and will actually also cool the water and provide biomass in the form of leaves in the stream for macroinvertebrates, and also promote native brook trout to be able to survive in these headwater streams So, it’s important to protect local water quality that ultimately protects the water quality of the Bay and helps everyone in that regard. There’s still always opportunity for doing better— to improve management. Some of that is through better education and knowledge. Some of that’s through technology. That allows for us to not only implement practices but also to get better information— to know exactly what the
crops producing, to have a better idea what’s needed for nutrients to support
the crop production. To better understand the soil. [Volk] We’re also able to go and research what new things are also giving us environmental benefits. Farmers in our area, they want to be good stewards. Lots of times if you are more efficient with how you’re using your nutrients, whether it’s an organic fertilizer or manure fertilizer, it’s a resource not a waste. These are all aspects that are important for the long-term viability of agriculture in the Bay watershed, both economically as well as improving the health of the Bay itself.

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