Sustaining Farmland Productivity and Ecology
Posted: August 23, 2011
Cropland, forestland, pastureland, and rangeland comprise a majority share of the utilization of the land in the United States, and more specifically in Adams County. These land uses also receive the majority of the conservation services, including assessments of soil, water, air, plant, and animal resource conditions and assistance with environmentally responsible solutions. The NRCS serves as stewards of the land, helping people care for their land and resources. “Our goal is not just a sustainable, nutritious, abundant food supply, but also thriving ecosystems that support a diversity of life,” writes Chief Dave White of the NRCS, “In the next century, NRCS will not only continue to tackle familiar challenges like ensuring clean water and healthy soil, but will also rise to meet new issues, such as clean air, clean energy, climate change, and new technology.”
Dave Wenk, co-owner of Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, can attest to the NRCS’ devotion to helping farmers care for their land and resources. “The NRCS has helped improve the irrigation system on my farm by assisting with the installation of a drip system, which conserves tons of water,” he said. According to an NRCS report, agriculture is one of the largest users of the nation’s surface water and groundwater, with irrigation consuming the greatest amounts. In 2000, approximately 34 percent of water withdrawn from surface water and groundwater was used for irrigation purposes. “By installing this drip irrigation system I have not only ensured that each tree gets the correct allotment of water, but also it helps to stabilize my water source by cutting excess water usage,” said Dave Wenk.
“We have also become involved with a native pollinator project, on the advice of the NRCS, which will prove most useful due to the recent decline in honey bee populations,” said Dave Wenk. “They helped us plant a block of wild flowers to draw in native pollinators. It will take a while to pick up, but the long-term effects will be very positive.”
When the NRCS was first conceived in 1935 its main focus was nutrient management and erosion control, and that focus remains today. “We have found that by targeting these two issues, we can also simultaneously address other issues, like air and water quality, irrigation, and pest management because there is a domino effect between these issues. A solution to one problem will often positively affect other problem areas. We also aim to implement solutions that address several issues simultaneously and provide multiple benefits,” said Jim Gillis.
Earlier this year, President Obama issued an Executive Order to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. “Over the years the Chesapeake Bay has been overloaded with sediments and nutrients because of runoff from agricultural operations in the watershed areas of the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers that drain into the Bay area,” said Jim Gillis. The Adams County region plays an enormous role in this project because approximately 75 percent of the drainage occurring in this county goes into the Chesapeake Bay. “The recent emphasis on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay area has resulted in increased cooperation and an increase in the amount of funding we receive,” said Jim Gillis. “We now prioritize our services to farms that impact the Bay, which around here is just about every farm. By fixing the little problems on these farms, we are also positively affecting the bigger picture: the Bay.”
“As of right now, the Adams County NRCS has taken care of many of the most pressing concerns related to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jim Gillis, “In fact, we are close to reaching this year’s goals for county environmental stewardship. We have already helped a number of farmers correctly implement environmentally responsible practices for results that not only affect individual farms, but also the region at large.”
“They have helped us with a number of different issues,” said Craig Yingling a livestock and row crop farmer in Adams County, “from stream bank fencing to prevent erosion, to water problems, from walkways, to riparian buffers, they do it all. The help I have received from the NRCS has resulted only in positive change. The creeks have come alive again, the animals have returned, the stream doesn’t run muddy when it rains like it did before the stream bank fencing was put in. We have seen remarkable improvement in all the areas the NRCS worked on. We have a great working relationship with the NRCS.”
For over 75 years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with the help of allied organizations such as the Soil Conservation Districts and the Department of Environmental Protection, has brought about remarkable changes in the stewardship of the land. Since its establishment in 1935, they have helped transform the nature of U.S. agriculture from exhaustive, to revitalizing, through guidance and assistance. By helping people help the land, the NRCS has made it their mission to keep productive lands fruitful and healthy environments thriving.
Amelia Jarvinen is an Ag Innovations Program Assistant at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to Affirmative Action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 717-334-6271 or 1-888-427-0261, e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu .