Harry Campbell | Farm Bill promotes clean waters and vibrant farms

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many partners call on Congress to swiftly pass a federal Farm Bill upon their return in just a few days.

Before leaving for summer recess, both the chambers passed their own versions, which now must be reconciled before being signed into law by the president.

While the crisis overseas must certainly be dealt with, we ask that Congress also address many crucial concerns back home — such as the Farm Bill.

Specifically, we hope U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson will ensure that the final bill supports Pennsylvania farmers and clean water by robustly funding vital Farm Bill conservation programs.

These programs help our farmers to make their operations more viable, to improve herd health and to conserve their soil and resources while helping to improve the quality of our streams and rivers.

When Congress returns Monday, the media and public attention related to the Farm Bill will surely again focus on nutrition and crop insurance programs. Together, these programs make up nearly 80 percent of the Farm Bill spending, compared with just 5.7 percent in spending, nationwide, for conservation programs that count for our local streams and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania farmers manage thousands of acres, and their day-to-day decisions about tilling, fertilizing, pasturing and planting have a huge impact on our environment.

We call on Thompson and the entire Pennsylvania delegation to recognize the critical role conservation funding serves in helping farmers make those decisions.

Thompson has the opportunity to demonstrate a leadership role in conservation and clean water efforts by supporting our farmers and these vital programs when Congress returns.

Farm Bill conservation programs help farmers throughout Pennsylvania to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution through the implementation of crucial, yet voluntary, conservation efforts.

These practices also help improve the long-term production potential for the farmer by keeping the soil on the farm and by improving herd health.

In Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed from 2010 through 2012, these conservation programs helped our farmers make about 100,000 acres of on-farm improvements.

The programs have a proven track record of clean water successes, and if adequately supported will help Pennsylvania reach our state clean water goals. It is crucial for Pennsylvania farmers to have adequate federal support for the on-farm practices that count toward meeting those goals.

The on-farm conservation practices supported by the Farm Bill are tangible practices or projects that include improving barn and building downspouts and treatment of rainwater to keep soil and excess nutrients from running into streams; improving barnyard areas to lessen soil erosion; fencing cattle from streams and instead providing them with a consistent and healthy drinking water source; planting trees and native vegetation along streams in order to filter pollution before it reaches the stream; planting cover crops during the off-season to protect fields from erosion; and planting crops for wildlife instead of leaving them fallow.

These practices are vital for clean water, but also for the thousands of Pennsylvania farmers who feed millions of Americans. Farmers are stewards of the land and the vast majority take that role seriously.

But, in many cases, farmers are delaying these investments because of the lack of federal assistance in the Farm Bill’s Conservation Program budget. Demand is far greater than supply, with only one in three farms that apply for conservation assistance receiving it.

Pennsylvanians deserve clean water, healthy communities and strong and vibrant economies for today and for generations to come.

The conservation programs in the Farm Bill can help.