ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Farm bureaus and agricultural leaders of Chesapeake Bay watershed states are pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund a major initiative to reduce farm runoff pollution in the bay and its waterways.

Six farm agencies – from states including Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York – are urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to put more than $730 million behind the Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative. It aims to help farmers with conservation efforts to cut chemical and sediment contamination.

Denise Stranko, federal executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said time is running out to meet federal cleanup goals.

“We know that roughly 80% of the reductions that are still left need to come from agriculture,” she said. “And so efforts like this – a bold move by USDA to acknowledge that and say, ‘Yes, we are going to send more money to the watershed’ – it would just be a huge step toward getting us to that 2025 deadline.”

With 83,000 farms in the region, farm runoff is the largest single source of water pollution in the bay and its tributaries, according to the foundation. Runoff makes up 49% of the bay’s three main pollutants: nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

Farm runoff needs to contain about 50 million fewer pounds of nitrogen than it does now by 2025, said Doug Myers, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s senior scientist for Maryland. His group has been working with Maryland lawmakers to reform the state’s conservation practices to meet that target. Now, more diverse cover crops are in place that help use less fertilizer, and soon the addition of stream buffers will also protect against runoff.

“Those are two big policy changes that we think will accelerate the agriculture sector,” he said, “and if that was to be matched up with really good funding for agricultural programs from the feds, I think we could not only make but exceed our goals.”

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for 2022 promises about $90 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program to clean up the watershed, a $3 million increase over current funding.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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