Agriculture and water: inseparable. But water quality and quantity remain major challenges for farmland protection and for farm communities. Getting the water right—maintaining the health of agriculture while supporting the environment— is one of American Farmland Trust’s highest priorities.
Water quality is impacted by many factors. These include sewage treatment, agricultural runoff, urban stormwater, failing septic systems, and industrial plants, among others. Each of these sources generates phosphorus and nitrogen, known as nutrients, that can contribute to harmful algae blooms followed by the loss of oxygen in the water. Words such as hypoxia and eutrophication—more commonly known as “dead zones” in the water where no oxygen is left—have become part of our daily conversations.
But what to do about it? That’s where the finger-pointing starts and meaningful solutions can get lost in the argument over who is to blame. Thanks to your help and support, American Farmland Trust is helping break the gridlock and finding real solutions to this national dilemma.
Reducing run-off from farms is vastly less expensive than building new treatment works. To accelerate the adoption of these conservation practices, AFT offers farmers new innovations such as increasing soil health and productivity through use of cover crops, paying them to reduce nutrients through water quality trading, and offering a yield guarantee to try out new practices.
- Cover crops. AFT’s national efforts to keep the soil covered with vegetation year round help prevent erosion and keep nutrients on the land and out of the water. Cover crops can also provide feed for livestock when the primary crop is not in production.
- Water quality trading. Working in tandem with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and other collaborators, AFT is helping farmers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky find a market for environmental stewardship. Because it is less expensive to improve nutrient management on farmland than it is to upgrade treatment facilities, and takes less time, water quality trading allows municipal and private-sector treatment plants to purchase nutrient reductions from farms, helping defray the cost to the farmer and reduce future treatment costs.
- BMP Challenge. Best Management Practices (BMPs) help protect water. They consist of numerous improvements in how manure is stored and managed to cutting fertilizer use. Some have been reluctant to engage in BMPs for fear their crop yields might drop. AFT and its partners have piloted a yield guarantee program. Farmers participating in this pilot program test BMPs on small plots on their farms and are reimbursed for any yield losses on those plots. AFT is seeking to create market mechanisms to support farmers that improve their practices.
Perhaps most of all, AFT has been a leading voice for conservation in the Farm Bill, and an advocate for critical programs such as the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program and ensuring that recipients of federal subsidies such as crop insurance comply with conservation requirements. AFT has also been a leader, helping push a balky Congress forward toward final passage of a five-year Farm Bill.
In these efforts we rely on your support. Individual contributions are the backbone of AFT. Won’t you please renew your membership today?
With many thanks and best wishes for 2014,
President and CEO
American Farmland Trust