Report shows conservation practices reduce runoff in Chesapeake

USDA-led conservation practices in the Bay watershed are preventing millions of tons of soil erosion annually while reducing harmful runoff.

A record number of voluntary conservation practices adopted by Chesapeake Bay farmers since 2006 have significantly reduced the amount of nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus leaving cultivated croplands, according to a new report released Dec. 5.

The report, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), estimates that since 2006, conservation practices applied by farmers and landowners are reducing nitrogen leaving fields by 48.6 million lb. each year, or 26%, and reducing phosphorus by 7.1 million lb., or 46%.

The report notes that these practices have also lowered the estimated average edge-of-field losses of sediment, or eroded soil, by about 15.1 million tons a year, or 60%, USDA said. The majority of the conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay were made possible through farm bill conservation programs, which are now expired.

"This report demonstrates that voluntary conservation practices made possible through the farm bill can have a substantial impact on limiting nutrient and sediment runoff from farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and across the nation ," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "These conservation efforts help to clean our soil and water, boost outdoor recreation that adds more than $640 billion to our economy and ensure that agriculture has the tools to remain productive in the years to come. The good work of Chesapeake Bay landowners has generated substantial progress in a short period of time, but more needs to be done ..."

The Chesapeake Bay watershed touches six states and is home to 17 million people and almost 84,000 farms and ranches. Agriculture contributes about $10 billion annually to the region's economy, USDA noted. Conservation practices have other environmental benefits, such as sequestering carbon and making farms more resilient to extreme weather events linked to climate change.

The full report, along with a fact sheet, summary and infographic, is available here.

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