Vilsack praises ag’s Bay conservation efforts

Associate Editor

DAVIDSONVILLE, Md. (Sept. 20, 2016) — Nearly 100 percent of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s farm acres employ at least one conservation practice, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this month.
“That’s an extraordinary achievement,” he told a group of local and regional agriculture officials gathered at Y Worry Farm on Sept. 9. “Unmatched anywhere in the United States.”
Vilsack and others, including Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder, celebrated farmers’ contributions to the Bay’s improving health at the Anne Arundel County farm.
Last year, University of Maryland researchers gave the Bay watershed a “C” grade on its report card, one of its three highest scores since 1986.
Water quality, aquatic wildlife and underwater ecosystems have all improved as a result of nutrient and pollution controls, according to a recently released progress report from the National Resources Conservation Service. About 1.6 million acres of priority watershed farmland (where water quality is poorest) have adopted conservation practices since 2010, the report said — about 41 percent of the USDA’s goal of 4 million acres by 2025. Agricultural producers have also invested nearly $1 billion in conservation practices on nearly 3.6 million acres of watershed farmland since 2009, said Jason Weller, the conservation service’s chief.
“Sure, there’s more work to be done, no question, but progress has been made and we’re beginning to see results,” Vilsack said.
The conservation service and the Environmental Protection Agency have been working to improve the Bay’s health since President Obama issued an executive order in 2009 directing the government to work to that end. Agriculture has played a critical role. The agriculture industry’s efforts to reduce sediment runoff into the Bay amounted to more than 75 percent of the watershed’s total sediment load reduction.
The industry also accounted for more than 50 percent of the total phosphorous reduction and less than 25 percent of the nitrogen reduction.
Jason Scott, an Eastern Shore grain farmer and chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, said the results speak to the efficacy of voluntary conservation programs — a point made by several speakers.
“Voluntary conservation does work,” he said. “Maryland and the Bay watershed are prime examples of that.”
“The results are profound,” Weller said.
Maryland also continues to boost its conservation efforts with the state anticipating another record-setting year of cover crop participation, Bartenfelder said. The progress is a credit to the adaptability of American farmers, Vilsack said.
“It’s a good day to be an American farmer,” he said. “It’s a good day to be a farmer in the Bay watershed.”