Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.
USDA has a long history of helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners maintain their bottom line while improving soil health and reducing runoff into streams and rivers. For nearly 80 years, USDA has offered funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement conservation practices through the conservation title of the Farm Bill. In recent years, however, USDA has also supported new, innovative approaches to voluntary, private lands conservation.
An announcement today by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in northern Virginia highlights an innovative approach called water quality trading. Farmers like John Harrison of Appomattox County are taking advantage of private investments to implement conservation practices on their land. These practices help reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into local bodies of water, generating nutrient credits that can then be sold to regulated entities looking to offset nutrient losses for compliance purposes. Read more »
Oklahoma Conservation Commission Soil Scientist Greg Scott talks about the practical benefits of best soil management practices during NRCS’ soil health demonstration earlier this month. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
Recently, I watched Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) provide testimony on the benefits of soil health during a House Agriculture Committee hearing. After the Chief’s impassioned testimony, I met with the crew setting up the rainfall simulator demonstration on the lawn of the USDA’s Whitten Building.
I couldn’t help but hope that the “Bundled Benefits of Soil Health” event would effectively illustrate what Chief Weller had only hours earlier discussed with lawmakers. Before long, the audience began to assemble and people passing by from the National Mall stopped to watch as a cowboy from Oklahoma, Greg Scott, a retired NRCS soil scientist and Chris Lawrence, NRCS cropland agronomist in Virginia, delivered the event’s soil health message. Read more »
A district conservationist with NRCS (right) works with a Maryland farmer to discuss conservation options for his farm that include improving water quality in the Chesapeake watershed. NRCS photo.
You don’t have to dig too deep to understand the connection of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to clean water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For nearly 80 years, conservationists with this USDA agency have built a stellar reputation of helping producers save their soil and improve water quality nationwide with the use of technical expertise and financial assistance.
Conservationists have used this expertise to help farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed achieve similar goals. Wise land management is one significant way to prevent the erosion and nutrient runoff that threatens the Bay. Read more »
Marsh grasses in Maryland provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.
The Chesapeake Bay is a valuable resource. The Bay is home to a variety of species, such as blue crab and striped bass, provides jobs for local fishing communities, and serves as a place to interact with nature. About a quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agriculture. The crops and livestock produced in this region provide food and fiber for millions of Americans. But these agricultural lands do more than produce food—they can play a role in improving the Bay’s water quality.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with the Bay states to set water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to develop Watershed Improvement Plans, or “WIPs,” for each of the states. Read more »
NRCS Maryland leadership joined the midshipmen for the service project. NRCS photo.
In the middle of the Broadneck Peninsula in Cape St. Claire sits a part of Maryland history that was neglected until a few years ago. The empty house resting on 30 acres was once part of Goshen Farm, a working farm that nearly covered the entire peninsula. Corn, wheat, beets, buckwheat and cabbage, as well as food for oxen, cows, pig, sheep, horses and mules grew abundantly, nourished by the rich and healthy soil.
Now, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with the Goshen Farm Preservation Society, Inc. to protect this farm – and put it back to work. NRCS and the society want to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for long-term, sustainable agricultural production, and Goshen Farm is the perfect place. Read more »
Staff members from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland Forest Service advise a forest landowner on options for how to participate in a water quality trading system.
Government agencies and organizations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have been building water quality trading systems during the past few years to lower the cost of regulatory compliance with water quality laws.
These trading systems enable farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in these Chesapeake Bay-area states to generate income by selling water quality credits to regulated entities like waste water treatment facilities and developers. As this market matures, people will be able to incorporate clean water into their overall management objectives more seamlessly.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with funding from a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, is developing tools to make it easier for people who own or manage forests to offer up their forested land for possible water quality and other ecosystem service credits. The alliance is working to streamline the credit development process for water quality trading on forested land in the region. Read more »