Cultivating Healthy Soil and Clean Water in New York - American Farmland Trust

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Cultivating Healthy Soil and Clean Water in New York

Farms play a key role in the identity and economy of communities in Long Island, the Great Lakes, and everywhere in between.

Farmers’ Guide for Protecting Water Quality on Long Island


Fertile soil on well-managed farms acts as a natural water filter. But when farms are lost to development or when farmland is not managed well, soils are degraded and drinking water suffers.

AFT has helped craft programs to assist farmers in stewarding their land and protecting drinking water for more than nine million state residents in New York City and upstate cities. Today, we are working with farmers in two targeted New York watersheds to help them do their part to improve water quality.

Target Regions

Conservation activities on farms are most effective when coordinated within a specific community or watershed. In New York, we’re currently focused on Long Island and the Great Lakes.

Long Island


Since 2011, AFT and our local partners at Cornell Cooperative Extension have worked closely with farmers on Long Island’s East End growing sweet corn, potatoes, and other crops to experiment with new conservation practices.

We help farmers get real-world experience with techniques such as controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer (CRNF), conservation tillage, and new varieties of cover crops. These practices help improve soil fertility and farm productivity while retaining nutrients and soil moisture – helping farmers deal with severe weather, like droughts and major rainstorms.

Accomplishments to date include:

Great Lakes

In Lake Ontario, excess phosphorous threatens drinking water, wildlife, and recreation. We are helping vegetable farmers on the southern side of Lake Ontario experiment with new conservation practices to improve soil health. AFT is also helping dairy farmers and field crop producers to learn about soil practices – including tillage practices, cover crops, and soil health tests.

AFT is launching a new initiative in the Great Lakes region working with landowners and farmer lessees to incentivize conservation practices on rented farmland. Conservation practices help reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality, while building the long-term health of the soil. During the planning phase of this project, AFT realized women landowners were interested in conservation on their land but under-served in education about these practices.

Through AFT’s women’s learning circles, landowners learn about the benefits of conservation practices and how to work with farmer lessees to develop leasing arrangements that are mutually beneficial and promote healthy soils and clean water.

Accomplishments to date include: