Conservation and industry partners highlight progress in the Chesapeake Bay

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

CHESTERTOWN, Md., July 17, 2012- National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President Gene Schmidt said he hopes the efforts of DuPont, NACD, government entities and other players in the Chesapeake Bay are part of “the beginning of a long partnership,” during a Chesapeake Bay conservation tour in NACD's Summer Legislative Conference at DuPont's Chesapeake Farms in Chestertown, Md.

The farm, a 3,000-acre wildlife and agricultural research and demonstration area, is located in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America covering 64,000 square miles.

As quoted in an NACD report, funded with assistance from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, executive director of the Maryland Association of Land Conservation Districts Lynne Hoot said “we've made great strides, but we have a long way to go.”

Fueling the urgency of meeting conservation efforts is President Barack Obama's executive order establishing a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allocation plan in 2010. The TMDL establishes a pollution diet to meet states' Bay cleanup water standards and places a cap on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads for all six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia. 

 Together we can feed the Bees

NACD CEO John Larson commented on the need to target funding at the local level by making federal programs more flexible. This is important for issues beyond the Chesapeake Bay as well, including the pine beetle epidemic spreading dead fuel for wildfires in the western United States. 

“There's a huge potential right now for more wildfires,” he said, noting that funding and infrastructure are major factors to removing fuel for fire. 

“We've got to get to that management level where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We have to bring the levels together to come to some type of management solution to implement the best practices.” 

Larson explained that conservation projects in all parts of the country benefit from local partnerships and knowledge, rather than a “top down” approach. 

“State conservationists know their communities. We have to give them the flexibility to make good decisions,” Larson added. “If we try to funnel from the top down, you get into a scenario where you may have the funding, but not the willing participants.”

Director of North American DuPont Crop Protection John Chrosniak noted farmers' goals always revolve around profitability, productivity and risk. However, “it is becoming more and more about sustainability.”

“Fundamental to conservation is good science,” Chrosniak said, using the demonstration plots on Chesapeake Farms as an example. “We're using the facility to really showcase and develop our technology.”

Chrosniak said when DuPont engages with consumers about “what we're doing and why we're doing it,” consumers often come away with a different perspective. “Complexity drives a lot of the concern and challenges,” he said.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program Nicholas DiPasquale said “Ag Certainty” programs have significant potential.   

“We don't want to be viewed as imposing ag certainty on the states,” he said, but EPA is supportive of incorporating them at the state level. Ag Certainty programs include a suite of conservations practices for a producer to implement in exchange for some relief from inspections and enforcement actions form the EPA.

“Suites of practices that include soil erosion control and comprehensive nutrient management-appropriate rate, form, timing, and method of application- are required to simultaneously address soil erosion, nutrient losses in runoff, and loss of nitrogen through leaching,” according NACD's analysis of  the 2011Chesapeake Bay Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) report. 

DiPasquale said studies of the Chesapeake Bay area indicate “that nutrient technology is starting to have an effect. The nutrient reductions over the past decade are responsible for the frequency of the reductions of dead zones in the Bay.”

The 2011CEAP report indicates that most cropland acres have structural or management practices in place to control erosion.

“Nearly half the cropland acres are protected by one or more structural practices, such as buffers or terraces,” according to the NACD report analyzing the CEAP results. “Reduced tillage is used in some form on 88 percent of the cropland.”

“Adoption of conservation practices has reduced edgeoffield sediment loss by 55 percent, losses of nitrogen with surface runoff by 42 percent, losses of nitrogen in subsurface flows by 31 percent, and losses of phosphorus (sediment attached and soluble) by 41 percent,” according to the report. 

“One of the things we have to get the message home on is lag time,” according to Hoot in the NACD report. “We have a model watershed called the Corsica River, the first (state of Maryland) model watershed. In the research process of this small watershed close to the Bay, we're talking about a lag time of 20 years.”

In other words, noted NACD, it may take up to 20 years to be able to measure the impact of today's best management practices.  

During the DuPont Chesapeake Farms tours, several speakers demonstrated best practices for grain cropland and pasture rangeland. Rick Johnstone, president of Integrated Vegetation Management Partners, Inc. (IVM), demonstrated conservation techniques for prairie pasture. “11 million acres of land has to be maintained, why not do it right,” he said, noting the advantage to pollinators that healthy prairie provides. 

“Achieving further gains on the Bay goals will rely on triedandtrue practices and systems, including riparian buffers, conservation tillage and appropriate cover crops,” according to NACD. “It will also require a variety of innovations to improve BMPs, along with innovative methods of delivering programs and information to land managers.”



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