Making Progress in Agriculture

Virginia farmers are using environmentally friendly practices like no-till planting, crop rotation, and the use of cover crops. Photo credit NRCSFarmers across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are increasing their use of environmentally friendly practices like no-till planting, crop rotation, and the use of cover crops. Photo credit NRCS

Real-Life Stories of Conservation and Farm Success 

Opponents of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint claim the cost of implementing agricultural best practices to reduce pollution runoff from farms will put family farms out of business.

Here are stories from across the Bay region that are disproving this myth. In fact, pollution control practices are improving many farmers' bottom lines.

Farmers who graze their herds have lower costs for such things as feed, fertilizer, pesticides, and equipment, and also routinely produce less nutrient and sediment pollution, primary pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay. Photo credit iStock

Raising Cows Green, Equals More Green

With lobbyists for industrial agriculture predicting the collapse of American farming if the Clean Water Act is enforced, it's refreshing to meet Myron Martin, and other farmers like him. And it may be more important to see their farms' balance sheets.

Martin is a dairy farmer in western Maryland. But his Peace Hollow Farm is not just any farm. It is perhaps the most profitable dairy farm in the region by some measures, according to recent calculations by the University of Maryland Extension. It also is one of the most environmentally friendly. Martin is a mentor in the Maryland Grazers Network, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) project that helps farmers learn from other farmers and farm/environmental professionals how to cut down on farm pollution and to increase profits.

Martin, like other Grazers, raises his cows on pasture, the old fashioned way, rather than confining them in the typical model of modern animal husbandry. Grass farmers have lower costs for such things as feed, fertilizer, pesticides, and equipment, and also routinely produce less nutrient and sediment pollution, primary pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay.

Martin earns a per-cow profit for his milk of $919 on average, according to studies conducted by Dale Johnson of the Extension. The average confinement operation earns $451 per cow. Other farmers in the Grazers Network earn $588 per cow. Martin earns nearly as much in milk sales for his 72 cows as the average confinement dairy farmers would earn with 147 cows—twice the per-cow profits.

These sorts of figures contradict the American Farm Bureau, which has been trying to raise fears among farmers that new efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay would put farmers out of business. Peace Hollow Farm and other operations prove the opposite: Sustainable farming can help increase profits.

"He (Martin) still has to deal with manure but the way he's managing his pastures, we're very confident very little manure is leaving the pastures and going into the waterways," Johnson said. "Is there a more environmentally friendly way of producing milk and possibly more profitable? We're thinking grazing does both."

Martin earns higher margins than even the average pasture dairy farm because he sells his milk to an organic wholesale farmer coop, Organic Valley, Johnson said. Organic milk brings a higher price.

That fact underscores the critical importance of consumers supporting small, environmentally friendly family farms. Buying farm products directly from farmers at farmers markets, through Community Supported Agriculture networks, or from retailers who feature organic, small-farm brands, simultaneously helps save the financially threatened family farm and the Bay.

For more information, check out the Chesapeake chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local hosted by CBF.

Screen shot of Chesapeake Bay Foundation Blog

More Success Stories

Follow stories in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Blog about local farmers who are making conservation practices work, not only for streams, rivers, and the Bay, but for the health and economic success of their farms.

Success Stories From the
CBF   Blog


You may also be interested in:
  • Reducing Phosphorus Pollution in Maryland Phosphorus is one of the three major pollutants affecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Land where manure is applied has, on average, three times more phosphorus runoff than land not receiving manure. As part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, Maryland is required to reduce phosphorus pollution 48 percent by 2025.
  • Pollution-Reduction Demonstration Project at Oregon Dairy The water quality of a local Lancaster stream is looking up these days, thanks to a group of nearly 100 CBF members, volunteers, staff, and partners.
  • Federal Court Ruling Affirms Chesapeake Bay Blueprint Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo today issued a ruling upholding Bay clean-up efforts, and rejecting the arguments of the Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders, and other big agriculture interests. The ruling affirmed that EPA, working with the states, has the authority to set science-based pollution limits.
  • Funds Now Available for Farm Improvements Buffer Bonus program funding available to farmers in Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming, and Lycoming counties.
  • Back to the Future Ron Holter is one of about 50 dairy farmers in Maryland who are boosting their profitability by going back in time.

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