Cumberland County farms - and Pennsylvania as a whole – fared relatively well under the rollout of new Chesapeake Bay regulations this past fiscal year, according to officials.
The so-called Chesapeake Bay Reboot program, instituted by the state after it was found to be falling behind federal guidelines, saw 50 Cumberland County farms – a total of 5,508 acres - inspected for erosion control and runoff management.
Of the first years’ inspected farms, 9 were already in compliance with the new requirements, and another 22 were brought into compliance before the end of the fiscal year, leaving 19 farms still needing work, according to data from the Cumberland County Conservation District, the local agency which carried out inspections for the PA Department of the Environment.
“For the most part we’ve had great cooperation from the farmers,” said conservation district director Carl Goshorn. “I would say there are a couple that are taking longer and we will have to refer them to the DEP if they don’t’ come into compliance, but that’s the exception.”
At a recent event in Dillsburg, PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said two-thirds of the farms inspected statewide have implemented environmental management plans.
“It wasn’t the narrative we were being told, which was that we weren’t doing enough,” Redding said. “Our farms were doing good things, but we weren’t getting credit for it.”
The 2016-2017 fiscal year was the first for Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Reboot program. In 2015, the federal Environmental Protection Agency withheld roughly $3 million in funding due to inadequate progress in PA toward the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a plan which seeks to drastically cut the amount of waterway contaminants in the six states surrounding the bay.
This includes three contaminants – phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment – which are typically associated with farm runoff, and which can alter the chemistry of the Chesapeake, causing unwanted algae blooms, fish deaths, and other environmental issues. The EPA blueprint, designed in 2010, calls for 60 percent of the reduction goal to be reached by 2017, and the rest by 2025.
The plan is not on track, however. Nitrogen levels should be cut by 40.7 million pounds per year by 2017, but current reductions are tracking at only 18.7 million pounds.
Of the 22 million pound reduction shortfall, 16.3 million pounds are attributable to PA agriculture, according to a study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
But this deficit may be made up shortly, Redding said – voluntary practices by PA farmers, documented over the past year, have brought nitrogen requirements down by one million pounds already.
The major obstacle to meeting the Chesapeake requirements is less farmer willingness and more a lack of capital. Farmers may be required, after formulating a state-approved plan, to simply expand the tree line buffer between their fields and any passing streams.
More complex measures, for instance, may include constructing new manure pits and processors. Adopting cover crops and a different planting rotation also helps cut down on nitrogen output, Goshorn noted, but is another significant change that farmers may need help making.
Last year, $28.7 million in funding from state and federal authorities was announced for environmental work on PA farms.
Goshorn said the district has about $200,000 of assistance planned for environmental work on three Cumberland farms, but expects more funding to become available soon.