Frank and Kandy Rohrer's proactive approach to improving the land and water quality on their Lancaster County farm, sets a positive example for others.
Since 2000, the Rohrers have installed two streamside buffers on their 200-acre farm, taking advantage of Pennsylvania's Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP) to help reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into nearby waters. They also put in grassed waterways, cover crops, and employ no-till production.
Restoration specialists from CBF Pennsylvania carried the Rohrers' success story, and others, to the nation's capital Dec. 2 and 3, to demonstrate the importance and challenges of their work to the two U.S. senators from the Keystone State.
The Pennsylvania field staff took the opportunity to meet with staff members for Senators Robert Casey, Jr., and Pat Toomey, while in Washington, D.C. for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Nationwide, CRP encompasses over 23 million acres, with 625,000 contracts on 410,000 farms. Pennsylvania's CREP is part of CRP.
CREP participants receive funding to create buffers, wetlands, wildlife habitat, grass filter strips, native grass stands, and more. The program pays up to 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually between $40 and $240 per acre/per year.
Through CREP, CBF and its partners have planted more than 1,800 miles of streamside buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In Bradford County, the partners under CREP planted over 3,000 acres of trees, making the county a conservation leader in Pennsylvania.
For Alix Murdoch, CBF's federal policy director, getting field staff together with top federal legislators was exciting. "It's the first time I've been able to bring in restoration staff, who I consider the source for where the action is really happening for us," Murdoch said. "Getting the final link in the chain in where our power, engineering and contributions come from, all the way up to the Hill where decisions are made on the federal level.
"Restoration staff spoke specifically about their experiences, where they work and what they do," Murdoch added. "It was totally relevant to the federal program and is the type of feedback that federal members need to hear."
Restoration specialists Steve Smith, Ashley Spotts, and Kristen Hoke emphasized the value of the CREP program, the importance of stream buffers, and the need for funding, when they met first with Liz Hermsen, senior policy advisor for Senator Casey, in the Russell Senate Office Building.
"It was a privilege to be asked to represent restoration staff and to tell them how CBF really does walk the walk and puts money into restoration," Hoke said. "We're not just telling people to put money toward restoration. For me, talking about the projects I've work on gives me new hope that my workload and the interest in CREP will pick up and I can be a method for that and help facilitate that."
Hoke works in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Franklin counties. Spotts works in York, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Chester counties. Smith is in Potter, Tioga, and Bradford counties. Restoration specialists Jennifer Johns and Frank Rohrer were unable to make the trip.
Other CBF Pennsylvania staffers making the trip to Washington, were Harry Campbell, executive director; Lee Ann Murray, assistant director and attorney; and Clair Ryan, watershed restoration program manager.
A key message delivered to top legislators from Pennsylvania, was that CBF's passion and commitment to clean water in the Commonwealth, is implemented by Pennsylvanians themselves.
"It's that local connection, understanding that we work for CBF, but we are Pennsylvania residents, concerned about Pennsylvania rivers and streams and that we want to work with farmers to get them to do what they ultimately want to do. And help their bottom line," Lee Ann Murray said. "It's that more local connection that maybe in the federal government gets lost in the process. It is important that they understand that what we are doing back home in the state is relevant and important and is a good use of funds. This visit puts a face to the work. That there are real people doing the work with real people who are constituents, and farmers."
The Pennsylvania contingent then met with Tyler Minnich, aide to Senator Toomey, in the Hart Senate Office Building.
Ashley Spotts spoke about the projects on the Rohrer farm, and detailed cooperative efforts to implement conservation practices on Amish farms in Lancaster County. "It was nice to finally be recognized that we are doing good things in our state," Spotts said. "I want to do right by my farmers and landowners and I want to help them as best I can."
Clair Ryan emphasized that CBF and farmers get good value when farmers participate in CREP funding. "It seems like the whole game with government programs is to do more with less and that is what we were explaining, how we do work on these programs, in a very efficient manner," Ryan said. "We bring private funds to the table that wouldn't be leveraged otherwise and we're committed to being good partners on these programs."
"These are the types of things that farmers by and large want. Most know it will be helpful to their bottom lines and to their operations," Harry Campbell told Tyler Minnich. "It's just that they don't have the time because of the demands of the work that they do, nor the resources necessary to do it on their own. Barnyard improvements, for example, are something that farmers recognize they have to get to, but when will they fit it in and get the assistance for it?"
Earlier in the day, Steve Smith attended a luncheon sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, honoring landowners participating in CREP. Smith and his family have owned land near Mansfield, Tioga County, and participated in CREP for 25 years.
Smith said there was a real diversity of conservation groups and landowners from different states at the luncheon. Smith had the chance to talk with USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse, about the need for additional funding. Smith was happy to tell the Undersecretary and senators about, "The importance of keeping CREP going and about the needs we have in Pennsylvania," Smith said. "The Bay situation and our shortfall in Pennsylvania is the most important thing to stress to them. We need funding to get there."
The Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitment. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution, specifically the runoff of harmful nitrogen and sediment into Pennsylvania rivers and streams.
At a reception that evening commemorating the 30th anniversary of CRP, the CBF staffers heard Undersecretary Scuse say the program does what many hoped it would do when it was created. "It solved problems," he told the gathering. "But it also added improved qualities to many American lives. There are not many provisions in laws implemented that can lay claim to so many unanticipated benefits. I'm proud to that we can show that American farmers and ranchers are directly involved in addressing this very critical social issue of climate change."
Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was in his fifth year as a member of the House of Representatives, when he introduced legislation authorizing CRP as the Farmland Conservation Acreage Preserve Act of 1985. "CRP not only encourages producers to conserve marginal farm land, but proved a valuable safety net to producers during some of their most difficult times," Roberts said. "An important aspect of CRP now includes a variety of initiatives that address specific conservation challenges such as improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species."
Through success stories about working with landowners like the Rohrers and Plain Sect farmers, the message made clear to legislators by the restoration contingent, was that clean water counts in Pennsylvania.
"I would hope we continue to meet with other legislators within our PA delegation, while differentiating ourselves from other national organizations that are conservation or environmentally-minded, that they typically hear from," Harry Campbell said. "This sets us apart in their minds as to who we are and what we do, and also what we are trying to accomplish."
��� B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator