Agricultural Assistance Program

The Bay Watershed encompasses 6 states and works its way across 64,000 square miles of land before pouring billions of gallons of fresh water into the Chesapeake Bay on a daily basis. This fresh water, carrying essential minerals and nutrients, mixes with salty ocean water creating an estuary with ideal conditions for plant and animal life. Our nation’s largest and most productive estuary, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to over 15 million people and thousands of plant and animal species.

Chesapeake Bay watershed from the Chesapeake Bay Program

watershed

As the water draining into the Bay works its way across the landscape, it picks up pollutants that adversely affect life in the Chesapeake Bay. Rain water carries soil, excess nutrients, fertilizers and pollutants from agricultural operations, streets, industries, lawns and construction sites, ultimately ending up in the Bay. Impacts from these various pollutants can adversely affect the vital species within the Bay and the natural balance of the Bay.

Now, more than ever, people within the Bay drainage region realize that what they do on the land directly affects the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past fifteen years, various citizens, private groups, government agencies and businesses have been joining forces to clean up the Bay watershed. In order to restore and protect the resources of the Chesapeake Bay, all of us need to become better stewards of the land.

Chesapeake Bay Program Reboot

On January 21, 2016, PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced their “Re-boot” strategy in an effort to reenergize efforts for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. PA has fallen behind in its efforts to reach the federally mandated 2017 interim Bay cleanup goals, so the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting pressure on DEP to increase its efforts to attain their 2025 goals.

As part of DEP’s “Reboot” strategy, they have changed the role for Conservation Districts (CDs) who participate in the Chesapeake Bay Program. This program offers funding for Chesapeake Bay Technicians at the CDs to work with local farmers to install conservation practices on their farms, with the ultimate goal of reducing pollutants in agricultural runoff. Starting July 1, 2016, the new role would require the CD Bay technician to perform 50 farm inspections per year to verify compliance with the State regulations that require farmers to have and implement a Manure Management Plan (MMP) and an Ag Erosion & Sediment Control Plan (AG E&S Plan). Essentially the CD would play a compliance/ regulatory role and would be required to refer noncomplying farmers to DEP for enforcement.

After much discussion and consideration, the Franklin County Conservation District (FCCD) Board of Directors decided that the compliance/regulatory role is not the role the farmers envisioned some 70 years ago when they formed the FCCD. Not wishing to jeopardize the trust and good working relationship with the county farmers, the FCCD took action to withdraw from the Chesapeake Bay Program effective July 1, 2016. The FCCD believes DEP has the compliance/regulatory responsibility while the CD offers education and technical assistance. The FCCD Board of Directors trusts the farming community supports their decision.

As a result of the FCCD’s decision, DEP will no longer provide reimbursement for our technician’s salary so we are making financial adjustments in order to retain our technician. The FCCD believes it is critical to have a technician on staff to offer education and technical assistance to farmers for implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) on their farms. We believe this is a vital role in improving local water quality and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The required MMPs and Ag E&S plans should be viewed as good stewardship tools for conserving your soils and nutrients and improving your bottom line.

It is believed DEP inspectors will start their 50+ farm inspections in Franklin County shortly after July 1, 2016. The FCCD strongly encourages farms of all sizes to have their plans in place before they arrive. We are available for assistance with obtaining these plans. However, we already have a backlog, and so do a number of private plan writers, so the sooner you get started the better. Please contact us at 264-5499 for assistance.

Technical Assistance and Cost Share Funding

Although the FCCD is no longer participating in the Chesapeake Bay Program, our goal remains to help reduce agricultural runoff to the Bay from local Franklin County farms. We are able to offer design and installation technical assistance to farmers for a variety of best management practices (bmp’s) including manure storage, collecting barnyard/agricultural runoff, waterways and diversions, stream bank fencing, and improved cattle walkways. We are able to utilize the Natural Resources Conservation Service engineering staff for the required certifications on liquid and semi-solid manure storages and for the necessary approvals for smaller scale bmp’s that we are able to design in house. Also, as part of this partnership, we are involved in helping NRCS install bmp’s that are funded through their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program provides cost share funding for all of the practices listed above and many more. If you would like more information or an application for this program, please call the Natural Resources Conservation Service at 717-264-8074 extension 3. If you would like to have a conservation district representative visit your farm for ideas on how to store manure, collection and disposal of barnyard runoff or any other agricultural conservation practice, please contact Scott Metzger at 717-264-5499 or email at baytech97@franklinccd.org.