Beef cattle lounge in the shaded corner of a trampled barnyard near fencing that shields fresh grass and a newly-planted swath of seedlings on both sides of the narrow creek. Up the slope and north of the barn, workers hammer away at the framework for the concrete of a manure storage area. Orange flagging marks parameters of a new, adjacent concrete barnyard.
The Bennett farm on Toad Hollow Road, near Montrose, Susquehanna County, is a hub of activity by local, state and federal partnerships intent on improving farm efficiency, maintaining the health of the herd, and protecting the water quality of Roe Creek that ambles through the property.
Less than a year after fencing was installed and trees were planted in the spring, progress is easy to see. "The stream banks will show the most immediate improvement," Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration specialist Jennifer Johns said. "Beef cattle, weighing an average of 1,500 pounds can do substantial damage to the banks. Their exclusion alone will decrease sediment loss significantly."
Claude Bennett, now 80, ran the farm starting in 1953. He bought it in 1964 when he was told the only way he could get a loan to put an addition onto the barn, was to own it. He milked cows on it until 1984. His son, Terry, has taken over daily operations of the 240-acre property and is actively participating in restoration. Today the farm grows mostly hay, and sells only a few cows.
"We're doing this to keep the streams clean and keep the nitrogen back out of the streams," Terry Bennett said of the fencing. "People look at it and say 'why did you fence the creek?' We did it to keep the cattle back away from the creek."
Forested buffers, like the one along Roe Creek, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, Pennsylvania's most problematic pollutants, before they can run off into waters like Roe Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
CBF assisted with the planting 1,400 trees and shrubs on 12 acres, creating forested buffers along the creek and on a hillside. Funding came from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year.
The Bennett project also qualified for CBF's Buffer Bonus program and a Growing Greener grazing grant, which earned it $27,500 to go toward the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the barnyard and grazing practices that are not cost shared. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance and is funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
CBF, Pheasants Forever, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), USDA, and Susquehanna County Conservation District joined forces to provide technical and financial support.
CBF collaborated with DEP on installation of more than 7,700 feet of fencing to keep the 80 cows and 30 calves out of 77 acres that includes the creek and woodlots.
"Funding sources come and go, but ambitious counties work collaboratively with their partners to piecemeal and piggyback available programs to make the projects workable and affordable," Jennifer Johns added. "Partnering with agencies like the local conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, NRCS, and DEP is critical and just makes sense. So many successful projects would not have been completed without these valued and essential partners."
Runoff of nutrients and sediment, particularly from agriculture, is the largest source of impairment to Pennsylvania waterways. Best Management Practices (BMPs) like those at the Bennett farm advance efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution and meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
The Blueprint includes science-based limits on the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. It also includes Pennsylvania's plans to achieve those limits and a commitment to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success. The Commonwealth must have 60 percent of its practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.
Pennsylvania must continue to move forward in its commitment to reduce pollution by implementing BMPs like those on the Bennett farm. Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.
--B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator
Chesapeake Bay Foundation