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New Chesapeake Bay report more positive for farmers

A new USDA report shows that farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are doing a better job with conservation practices than they were previously given credit for.

The report—called the Conservation Effects Assessment Project, or CEAP—quantifies the effects of conservation practices on cultivated cropland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

According to Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) chief Dave White, the biggest change from the CEAP draft of last October and today’s report is the percentage of acres in the “high treatment” category.  That’s the category of greatest concern in regards to nitrogen and phosphorous management.  He says that “high treatment” number dropped from 47 percent in October down to 19 percent in the final report.

“One of the things we learned in the draft review process—we got better information on the plant uptake of nutrients in the winter,” White explains.

“The APEX model resulted in estimates of erosion and sediment loss that were just too high—using the old information, it inflated the estimates of these critical undertreated acres,” he says. “So when the new science was added and the modeling routine was run which incorporated the new information, we feel we have done a much better job of accounting for plant growth, and the related nitrogen and phosphorus, particularly during the winter months.”

White created a bit of a stir in early February when he told members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association that there were big differences between NRCS’ data on conservation tillage and the data used by EPA in formulating its TMDL rule for the Chesapeake Bay region. White says he has shared the new conservation tillage data with EPA—and he says the agency has agreed to use the updated information from the CEAP report. 

White says he is “much more bullish on the Bay” than he was in the past.

“Congress gave us some incredible resources in the ’08 farm bill.  We have tremendous partners in the states—we are working closely with the state agencies and local conservation districts, farm groups, conservation groups—our farmers are more than willing to do their part,” he says, “and, from the perspective of agriculture, we can fix our issues and we can do it in a fairly short amount of time.

White says while the CEAP report shows that voluntary conservation efforts are working, there is still room for improvement in the area of nitrogen management.

AUDIO: Excerpts from news conference with NRCS chief Dave White (14 min MP3)

  • The CEAP results are encouraging, but they do not provide me, as an individual farmer with any assurance what so ever. If we view these ecoservices (water, soil tilth, carbon seq, habitat) from the similar perspective as other ecoservices (grain, vegetables, livestock) we can begin to find a solution for individual farmers. Both types of ecoservices are produced by applying certain land management activities. I can produce a certain quality and quantity of water and/or corn depending how I manage my land. I can measure the quantity of corn I produce using bushels. My options to measuring the quantity and quality of water is not so precise, but I can use a land managemet index. [You use indices all the time – wind chill factor, heat index, consumer price index – there everywhere) Let’s day a WQ Index of 75 meet the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and my farm score is 62. I change my land practices to meet that to get to 75 and I account for this each and every year. If non-profits and government programs want to pay me to get to this water quality assurance – thank you very much. But I need to be able to get up in the morning and know I am going to manage my land for 185 bu corn/acre and a WQ Index of 75. I don’t need layers of local, state and federal governments to educate me about the value of BMPs. I know that. I just need to know what they think they want me to do. I need a stdrting line – using indices; and a finish line – an index number and I can do the work and ask for assistance if I need it. The mass confusion that exists within the ag, enviro, gov, industry, etc is the result that no one has discussed a target. Let’s at least start fighting about the finish line rather than if we should play the game. The game has started long ago. In the broader picture this is called EcoCommerce and it is described in concept and detail in EcoCommerce 101 at http://www.ecocommerce101.com

    Thanks for your coverage,

    Tim Gieseke

  • Very informative report but you MUST remember that this ONLY covered the cropland within the Bay watershed. What about the tremendous acres of pastureland that may be over-grazing and the stream may be the only source water for the livestock to drink and to use to cool themselves off. What about farmsteads and animal concentration areas (barnyards, feedlots, sacrifice lots, etc.). I have offer an Inventory – Assessment & Planning Tool but no-one has explained to me why don’t the powers-that-be want to have a tool where they could pinpoint where the good – the bad $ the ugly may be? And could develop an estimated cost watershed by watershed to implement conservation on the ground. This is a very encouraging report but lets remember that this TOO is data generated from a computer model. If the data in is good; the output is good but if it is garbage in; then you have garbage out.

  • Once again my Inventory – Assessment and Planning tool may just give Mr. Gieseke what he is looking for. I agree that every farmer should be evaluated and then have it explained what shortcomings he may have and what the recommendations may be to address these shortcomings. it would also give an estimated cost to make these improvements. Hoping funding could be provided so the cost to the farmer is minimized. Some of the improvement may be suggested changes in management that the farmer can live with. I don’t think that agriculture needs to panic. We have 15 years to make some changes but we need to start soon. I think if the conservation planner can explain to a farmer where improvements are needed; the the cost may be and that there is cost-shares to hold down the out of pocket cost to him; that they will try to implement these changes and install what may be needed.

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