American Farmland Trust and partners develop model to reduce farm runoff in key Great Lakes watersheds - American Farmland Trust

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American Farmland Trust and partners develop model to reduce farm runoff in key Great Lakes watersheds

6/3/20, WASHINGTON, DC — American Farmland Trust and its partners have developed a new and innovative model to reduce nutrient and soil sediment runoff on leased farmland in the Great Lakes region. By engaging women landowners, their operators and farm retailers, the team is expanding the use of conservation practices to improve soil health and reduce runoff in the Great Lakes Basin. Pilots for the model took place in the Portage and Toussaint River Basins in northwestern Ohio and the Genesee River Basin in western New York.

The “Landowners and Farmers Partnering for Clean Water in the Great Lakes” model is built around three strategies: engaging women landowners through “learning circles,” organizing workshops for farm operators who lease their land, and gathering knowledge from agricultural retailers and crop consultants.

This team began the work after identifying a key barrier to the implementation of conservation practices that safeguard water quality: farmers who lease the land they farm do not have as many incentives to use conservation practices as do farmers who own the land they farm. In the Great Lakes region, up to 49 percent of the farmland is leased. A significant share of leased farmland is owned by women, a traditionally underserved sector in agriculture, and a sector that is expected to increase.

“Non-operating landowners, particularly women, are an important part of the solution to the nutrient problems in the Great Lakes,” said Brian Brandt, agriculture conservation innovations director at AFT. “This team has developed new strategies and tools that bring together the landowners and tenant farmers to put more conservation practices on the land while sharing the rewards and the risks. It’s a win-win-win for the landowner, the farmer and the Great Lakes.”

Toolkits designed for non-operating landowners, farmers who rent land, and the agricultural professionals who serve them are available on American Farmland Trust’s website. These resources are the result of three years of work by American Farmland Trust,Ottawa Soil & Water Conservation District, Wood Soil & Water Conservation District, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Utah State University and the IPM Institute of North America.

Washington, DC-based photographer Rebecca Drobis traveled to Wyoming County, New York, in 2018, to document the project as it was underway. The photo essay that she created is now available online.

Other resources that are also available include how-to guides for conducting learning circles and promoting better communication between landowners and farmers, and a series of written and video profiles about participants in both watersheds.


Funding for “Landowners and Farmers Partnering for Clean Water in the Great Lakes” was provided by the Great Lakes Protection Fund.

American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No FoodⓇ  message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.  Learn more at

The Great Lakes Protection Fund’s mission is to “identify, demonstrate, and promote regional action to improve the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.” The Fund is a permanent, private, not-for-profit corporation that launches innovative solutions to improve the health of the Great Lakes. Since 1989, the Fund has awarded more than $88 million in support to catalyze the continuous development of new technologies and practical regional actions to improve the health of the Great Lakes.

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Lori Sallet

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