Environmental Groups and Farmers Join Together To Call for Chesapeake Bay Funding

New Study Concludes State Should Invest $100 Million to Implement Conservation Practices and Reduce Runoff.

SOURCE: Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG)
On November 28--the eve of the Chesapeake Executive Counsel Meeting and as Governor Ehrlich makes key decisions in funding for the coming year--Jennifer Dangel, Bay Advocate with the MaryPIRG Foundation, Drew Koslow, the South Riverkeeper, and Cleo Braver, a Talbot County farm owner, stood together on the Annapolis City Dock, by the Kunta Kinte Memorial, to call on Gov. Ehrlich to fully fund state programs that help farmers implement conservation practices. Farmers need more state assistance to reduce their runoff, according to a newly-released MaryPIRG Foundation report.

“This summer we saw again and again that the bay is failing. The dead zone was larger than ever and the bay scored another ‘D’ on its health," aid Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Bay Advocate for MaryPIRG Foundation, in a prepared statement to the press. "It is clearly time for the state to make a serious investment in the bay."

“Our streams and rivers, and the bay, all have a value beyond any price. The state must do what it takes to reduce its runoff and clean up its waterways,” said Koslow.

According to Maryland’s Tributary Teams, overseen by the Department of Natural Resources, the best way to reduce nutrient pollution in the bay is by funding state cost-share programs for agricultural conservation practices that reduce runoff from farms. These practices include cover crops, stream buffers, manure sheds, and stream fencing.

“State programs helped me plant cover crops and stream buffers on my land, reducing runoff and decreasing my impact on the bay,” said Cleo Braver, a farmowner in Talbot County, at a press conference in Annapolis on November 28.

MaryPIRG's report, titled "Healthy Farms for a Healthy Bay: The Benefits of Agricultural Conservation Programs," discusses the problems with the bay and the need for state programs that help farmers install conservation practices on their farms. The report highlights the stories of seven farmers and watermen. Every farmer interviewed for the report relied on state assistance to reduce runoff, keeping the farm profitable while cleaning up the bay.

Half the runoff from farming comes from animal manure, especially from poultry production on the Eastern Shore. This production has grown highly concentrated in recent years, causing a hotspot of manure in just a few counties. Yet these farmers barely make a living wage, leaving them unable to afford conservation practices. Chicken growers need more ways to transport and use their manure if they are to reduce their runoff.

“Most chicken growers can’t figure out an option for managing their waste,” said Carole Morison, a chicken farmer interviewed in the report.

The report found that state assistance is needed to help farmers implement conservation practices and manage their manure, to research alternative uses for manure, and to pay for technical support staff that help farmers implement new programs and practices. To do this, the MaryPIRG Foundation called on the state of Maryland to:

“Farmers can’t afford to make these reductions on their own. But to clean up the bay, everyone must be held accountable. The state must invest in its farmers and the poultry industry must invest in its growers,” asserted Bevan-Dangel.

Dan Vaughan, one of the farmers interviewed for the report, said, “I’m willing to do what I can to help [reduce runoff] but I would not be able to do this alone.”

Five years ago Maryland entered the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, pledging to restore the Chesapeake Bay to a healthy state by 2010. Investing in agriculture can make nearly two-thirds of Maryland’s required runoff reduction for only 9% of the total cost to clean up the bay.

“Maryland has promised to reduce her contribution to nitrogen and phosphorous in the bay a certain amount by 2010. Funding agricultural conservation practices is the most cost-efficient way to make the necessary nutrient reductions,” said Bevan-Dangel.

“If there was more money in the program, I could pull more land out of farming for buffers along the river,” said Tommy Dodd, a farmer interviewed in the report. “We’re not making what we could make if we kept the land in production, but we’re trying to help reduce runoff.”

“If Maryland truly cares about her farmers and the bay, then the state will do what it takes to fund these practices. But with the health of the bay hanging in the balance, the state must act decisively and must act soon,” concluded Bevan-Dangel.

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This story was published on November 29, 2005.