Bay Journal

Include farmers in decision-making process

  • By David Bancroft on June 01, 2005

The Chesapeake Bay watershed will not become a cleaner and healthier place to live without an economically viable farm community. Vital and vibrant working lands producing row crops, vegetables, fruits and timber are essential to restoring the Bay.

Many would be surprised to hear someone from the environmental community say that. All of the reports indicate that throughout the watershed, excess nutrients from farms is the largest source of pollution causing impairment to the Bay. And that is true.

If that land is not being farmed, though, it is unlikely to lay fallow and turn into pasture land or forests. It will most likely be developed into residential and/or commercial uses. Runoff from development is much more difficult to control as well as much more expensive.

Thus, agriculture provides a great opportunity for the Bay cleanup.

As outlined in the report, Chesapeake 2004: A Blueprint for Success, almost 60 percent of the nutrient pollution reductions needed to achieve the restoration goals of the Chesapeake Bay can be achieved through the implementation of conservation measures on farms and changes in farming practices.

Further, consensus is developing that some investments in the prevention of pollution from agriculture are among the most cost-effective ways to improve water quality, protect living resources and improve the overall health and functioning of the Bay.

While many organizations are doing excellent work in developing and improving farm Best Management Practices, one of the most important aspects of BMP implementation is not being addressed—the working relationship between the agricultural and environmental communities.

Many in the agricultural community say, and in many cases justifiably, that they have been left out of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup strategy sessions yet are being asked to achieve goals they had no hand in setting.

In exploring opportunities to ramp up agricultural initiatives, it is important to recognize that much of the agricultural community has become increasingly disillusioned and disenfranchised over Bay cleanup efforts.

In conversations with farmers, references are often made to the agricultural community being treated unfairly. Many farmers see themselves as Bay scapegoats and victims of political battles involving other powerful stakeholders.

They also talk of top-down decision making and solutions being imposed on the sector from “outside experts.”

The net result is that, in many cases, farmers have lost the desire to function as “partners with the Bay.” Their sense of ownership and participation in restoration programs is declining and they increasingly see themselves portrayed by others as the “problem” rather than the “solution.”

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is deeply troubled with these trends and believes that efforts need to be made to help the farm community come together and develop an agenda and action plan to guide the sector’s future involvement in Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection efforts.

The Alliance believes it is imperative that the agricultural community be fully engaged in the decision- making process related to the design, deployment, implementation and evaluation of the next generation of agricultural nutrient utilization programs.

In addition, the agricultural community needs to be leading these efforts. For this to occur, the agricultural community must be treated as a respected Bay stakeholder and partner.

Equally important, the agricultural sector must provide proactive and positive leadership in guiding Bay restoration efforts.

It must help to define the real farming practices, or BMPs, that will help to reduce nutrient runoff. It must also must team with others to secure the necessary state and federal financial resources that will pay for these practices.

As residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we must help our farm community to remain economically viable.

To this end, we must invest the required financial resources in our agricultural sector for farmers to implement the necessary BMPs so that we may all have a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

It is only by working together that we can finish the job of Bay restoration.

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About David Bancroft

David Bancroft is an energy and environment advisor to the Obama/Biden campaign.

Read more articles by David Bancroft

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