Meandering its way through central Pennsylvania, Penns Creek is a world-class trout fishery. But lately it's not just anglers who are drawn to it.
Attention has shifted to the efforts of local farmers who, with many partners and funding through the federal Farm Bill, are improving Penns Creek and its tributaries. At the same time, they are improving the economic stability of their farms.
The watershed has its share of problems. Cows muck through the creek, plowing fields sends soil rushing into streams during rains, and land use changes like the development of farmlands all take a toll on the trout and on their clean water habitat.
But it is getting better, thanks to farmers like Mike Marquardt, who operates Marquardt Farms in Spring Mills. He shares, "Muddy Creek [a tributary of Penns Creek] runs through the farms, so I have to do my part to minimize the impacts."
Mike's efforts are doing just that.
He says, "Cover crops keep the nutrients in the ground!" Planting cover crops and utilizing no-till planting methods are two of the conservation practices Mike follows for the 360 acres of farmland that he manages for his mother Linda. These soil-saving practices and others were prescribed through USDA NRCS conservation plans.
In addition to managing crops, he also raises 50 steers and 40 holstein heifers. That can add up to a lot of manure. Through programs like the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP), and the Chesapeake Bay Program, Mike received the technical and financial assistance needed to build a manure storage facility.
"With my new manure storage I can spread manure when I want to and put it where I need it." And that's important. Properly managing manure application, combined with planting cover crops goes a long way toward keeping nutrients in the ground and out of the stream.
Finally, Mike knew that having the cows muck-around in Muddy Creek was not good for the water--or for the cows. So with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) he enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
CREP provided the assistance Mike needed to fence the cattle from the creek and plant a buffer of trees between the creek and the field--one more way to keep the nutrients and the soil where they belong.
--Frank Rohrer and Kelly Donaldson