Chesapeake Bay states have until 2025 to implement watershed pollution-reduction practices, and a new report shows “climate-smart” farming in Maryland can help prevent farm runoff.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation report found that using regenerative farming practices, from rotational grazing to planting forest buffers along streams, can reduce pollution from animal waste and soil erosion.
Rob Schnabel, the foundation’s Maryland restoration biologist, said Maryland is a leader in farmers’ use of cover crops to improve soil health – but more ranchers could be on board, with strategies such as rotational grazing.
“Animals grazing, rotating through these pastures, is like a probiotic to the soil microbes, greatly accelerating carbon sequestration in the form of soil organic matter,” he said. “This restores the soil sponge, which will reduce flooding during storm events, as well as make these farms more resilient during times of drought.”
A multi-year study found that converting Bay watershed farmland to rotationally grazed pastures led to an average reduction of 42% in net greenhouse-gas emissions.
Fair Hill Farms, an organic dairy farm in Kent County, converted 200 acres to rotationally grazed pasture in 2016, and a model estimate found that nitrogen pollution from the farm in nearby waterways decreased by 96%.
Beth McGee, the foundation’s director of science and agricultural policy, said it’s time for state and federal investment to help farmers make these transitions.
“The Chesapeake Bay region’s farmers have shown a willingness to adopt these conservation practices, but they often lack the technical and financial resources to do so,” she said. “We estimate that these buffers would remove roughly 173,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.”
Maryland has achieved 86% of its commitment to the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint to planting trees next to waterways. The foundation is advocating for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create the Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative, to direct more federal conservation funds to Bay states.