Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): Chesapeake Bay

Farmers are helping to heal the Chesapeake Bay, but they can’t do it alone

Callie Eideberg, EDF's new senior policy manager for sustainable agriculture.

Callie Eideberg, EDF's new senior policy manager for sustainable agriculture.

We often hear about the deep-rooted water quality challenges in the Chesapeake Bay, and how not enough progress is being made. While agriculture, urban/suburban runoff, vehicle emissions, and other sources share responsibility for the bay’s poor health, all too often farmers shoulder most of the blame.

Earlier this month, USDA released the Chesapeake Bay Progress Report, which revealed that since 2009, federal investments helped area farmers implement nearly $1 billion worth of conservation practices on more than 3.5 million acres and install nearly 3,500 miles of riparian buffers that reduce nutrient runoff into waterways. Between 2006 and 2011, farmer efforts reduced sediment loss by 15.1 million tons per year.

This is encouraging news, and part of the reason the overall health of the bay is improving. Supporting farmers and their livelihoods is key to solving the watershed’s environmental challenges. As the report notes, “a thriving and sustainable agricultural sector is critical to restoring the bay.”

There is still a lot of work to do. Because a significant increase in public funding is unlikely, relying too heavily on federal investment in voluntary conservation programs is not a good pathway to fully heal the bay.

Here are two ways that agriculture can further accelerate improvements in the watershed. Read More »

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How ag retailers are helping improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay

Farmers in front of a tractor Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN® platform – a powerful tool that can make a real impact in improving regional water quality — is coming to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Mill®, a large agricultural retail company, today became the first business in the area to utilize SUSTAIN in Maryland and Pennsylvania. SUSTAIN provides ag retailers with tools and training in best practices for fertilizer efficiency and soil health – such as cover crops and precision ag technologies – while maintaining the potential for high yields. Retail staff then bring this knowledge to the farmers they serve, meaning that one retail location can reach hundreds of farmers.

That’s why the platform, co-developed by Environmental Defense Fund, is taking off. Thus far, 27 ag retailers across the country have been trained, and food companies such as Smithfield Foods, Campbell’s Soup, Unilever, and Kellogg are connecting to the SUSTAIN platform as a way to meet their corporate sustainability goals.

I asked Ben Hushon, owner of The Mill, to tell me what this means for the Bay, for his company, and for farmers. Read More »

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Meet Eric Davidson, NutrientStar’s newest review panel member

Dr. Eric Davidson. Image Credit: Jennifer Amendolara

Dr. Eric Davidson. Image Credit: Jennifer Amendolara

A panel of experts forms the foundation of NutrientStar, the newly independent, science-based program that reviews the performance of commercially available nutrient management tools. This panel reviews all tools based on established scientific criteria and their ability to improve fertilizer efficiency in the field. The panel is a “who’s who” of fertilizer efficiency experts from across the country – from academia, government agencies, and the private sector.

And now, this eight-member panel can add to its ranks a new member: Eric Davidson, professor and director of the Appalachian Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Davidson, an ecologist, researches biogeochemical processes including the exchange of plant nutrients from the land to streams and groundwater, and the exchange of greenhouse gases between the soil and the atmosphere.

I asked him about his current research, his nitrogen expertise, and why he believes the NutrientStar model can be replicated at scale to improve water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

Read More »

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A business-smart approach to ending fertilizer pollution

Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

The toxic algae scare in Toledo this past summer really drove home the problem of fertilizer pollution in this country, right through the faucets of half a million unsuspecting residents. Don’t drink the water, officials warned. Don’t even touch it.

We need and rely on farmers every day for our well-being. But when producing food for a growing population threatens to deprive us of water, another life essential, it’s time to rethink the way we feed America.

That’s why I’m so excited about EDF’s new Sustainable Sourcing Initiative. Our goal in this collaborative effort is to engage every player in the U.S. grain supply chain to solve what has been an intractable problem for decades.

The challenge

Fertilizer, of course, is necessary for achieving high crop yields. But its inefficient use contributes to climate instability and causes dead zones that contaminate water supplies and kill millions of fish each year.

Read More »

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How the marketplace is driving clean water solutions

BoyMomDrinkFtn_Photos.com_87822780_4CC_RFFederal and state governments aren’t doing enough to keep polluted runoff from reaching America’s waterways. That’s the conclusion the Environmental Protection Agency – aka the federal government – has reached in a new report from the office of its inspector general.

Anyone surprised?

Government has tried to reign in nutrient pollution for decades, only to watch dead zones persist in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. Just last month, a toxic brew of urban and agricultural runoff shut down Toledo’s water for two days. Seven weeks later, many of the city’s half million residents are still afraid to drink what’s coming out of the tap.

Read More »

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Water filters can fight dead zones without hindering farm production

Updated (October 23, 2014): Interior, Agriculture Departments Partner to Measure Conservation Impacts on Water Quality 

A treatment wetland built under the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Photo from Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

A treatment wetland built under the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Photo from Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

"Is the water safe?"

In the United States, we take it for granted that the answer to that question is “yes.” But the residents of Toledo, OH, learned recently that their water wasn’t safe to drink for a few days because toxins associated with an algal bloom in Lake Erie had contaminated the city’s water supply. Meanwhile, a Maryland man was released from the hospital after nearly losing his leg and his life to flesh-eating bacteria contracted from swimming in the Chesapeake Bay.

These types of incidents are caused by nutrient pollution. Although nutrient pollution can come from many sources, runoff from agriculture is the dominant contributor to the problem in Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Agriculture-associated nutrient pollution also impacts local streams and lakes, causing fish kills and closing swimming beaches. A recent study in Minnesota suggested that more than 70 percent of nitrogen in state waters comes from cropland.

What needs to be done, and how much will make a difference? Read More »

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