A few weeks ago, I mentioned an effort by the Natural Resources Conservation Program to measure the benefits of conservation practices on farmland. Although that program is starting small, with farmers in seven states voluntarily participating, a recent report shows that volunteer efforts really do pay off.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, many farmers have been working for the last seven years to reduce the nutrients and sediment leaving their lands. These voluntary measures, tracked by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, have reduced nitrogen from the fields by 26% (some 48.6 million pounds) per year, phosphorus by 46% (7.1 million pounds), and sediment by 60% (15.1 million tons), according to NRCS estimates.
The conservation measures, such as using no-till practices and planting cover crops to reduce erosion, are not applied equally throughout the region, and the efforts are voluntary; even so, some sort of erosion control measures are being applied on about 97% of cropland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The report is part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), and in publicizing the report the Department of Agriculture points out that many of the conservation programs took place with assistance through the now-expired Farm Bill.
You can download the report and find out more about CEAP here.