The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) applauds the state Farm Bureaus of the Bay watershed’s six states for urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to devote nearly three quarters of a billion dollars to reducing agricultural pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and the local creeks, streams, and rivers that feed into it.
Time is running out for the watershed states to adopt the Bay restoration practices and policies they committed to in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. State-developed clean-up plans require 80 percent of the remaining pollution reduction come from agriculture by the 2025 deadline. That means that farmers will have to significantly increase the use of conservation practices.
The Blueprint is a science-based roadmap detailing the pollution reductions each of the six states and the District of Columbia must make to restore the health and productivity of the Bay. After decades of uneven efforts, it is our last, best chance to save the nation’s largest estuary. The Bay is an ecological treasure and irreplaceable economic engine for the 18 million people who live, work, and play in its watershed.
Conservation practices such as planting forested buffers and rotating where livestock graze are among the most cost-effective ways to achieve those reductions. They also help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon and boost local economies by creating jobs and generating business in the community.
In a letter dated September 15, the presidents of the Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia Farm Bureaus called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to create a program called the Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative (CRFI) to direct $737 million in conservation assistance to farmers in local watersheds “known to have the greatest influence on the Chesapeake Bay and offer the most cost-effective solutions.”
The six Farm Bureau presidents pledged to work with Vilsack and their state congressional delegations “to find funding that would then flow through proven conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Service, such as Conservation Technical Assistance, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program, to put these practices on the ground.”
The watershed states’ Agriculture secretaries wrote a similar letter to Vilsack last month urging the creation of the CRFI program to help farmers make the remaining 80 percent of pollution cuts required by the Blueprint. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf urged Vilsack to adopt the plan on September 7.
Such programs provide financial and technical support to farmers who want to follow conservation practices but lack the necessary capital or need technical assistance. Many conservation practices also combat climate change and provide benefits to local economies.
An economic report commissioned by CBF found that the broad economic benefits provided by nature in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will total $130 billion annually when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented.
CBF Federal Executive Director Denise Stranko issued the following statement:
“The Blueprint deadline is approaching fast and most of the remaining work falls on farmers. The Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative (CRFI) is the kind of bold USDA investment plan that will help farmers adopt the conservation practices essential to restoring the Bay and its local rivers and streams.
“CBF is excited to see momentum for the CRFI building among agricultural leaders who represent more than 100,000 farm families across the watershed. We join them in urging Secretary Vilsack to establish this game-changing program to help save the Bay while we still can.
“Congress must do its part as well by increasing long-term funding for USDA conservation programs. CBF is working with Congress to provide the additional agricultural conservation funding necessary to help farmers finish the job.”
CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Shannon Gority said:
“Pennsylvania is far short of achieving its commitments to reduce pollution by 2025. Increased investments in agricultural conservation practices in Pennsylvania through the Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative will help close that gap. It will keep soil and nitrogen on the land instead of polluting local waters, combat climate change, and improve farm productivity.
“Farmers have shown they are willing to invest their time, land, limited funds, and effort to clean and protect local rivers and streams and leave a legacy of healthy soils and clean water. But they need greater investments from both the state and federal governments to finish the job.
“We appreciate the support of this initiative by the farm bureaus in the Bay states and their continued efforts for clean water that is essential to our quality of life, health, and economy.”
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