Penn State Agricultural Council hears watershed report

"Upstream Practices, Downstream Effects" was the theme as members of the Penn State Agricultural Council were updated on developments in agricultural nutrient management and water quality issues at the council's recent meeting in State College.
 
Kristen Saacke Blunk, director of Penn State's Agriculture and Environment Center, highlighted the center's programs aimed at helping Pennsylvania's agricultural producers reduce nutrient run-off into the Chesapeake Bay and other watersheds.
 
The center targeted the nutrient and sediment load that agriculture contributes to the Chesapeake Bay as a starting point, Saacke Blunk said, and it initiated several activities to address those topics, starting with the state's first "Agriculture and Environment: Achieving Balance" conference.
 
"The conference surpassed our expectations for the numbers of participants who attended, representing most of the major agricultural and environmental arenas," she said. "It brought together engaged stakeholders to identify genuine problems and possible solutions. It also shifted the discussion from scientific issues to presenting a vision of what agriculture in balance would look like for Pennsylvania."
 
Several areas of potential emerged from the conference, including improved calculations of ecosystem benefits that working lands provide, such as the value of open space, carbon capture potential, water-quality improvements, habitat and wetland banking and more.
 
"We're asking what the farm provides that is not currently counted as a benefit to the community," Saacke Blunk said. "Generation of water-quality credits, for example, has captured national interest because it enables nonpoint sources to participate in watershed protection by being counted for their reduction of pollutants flowing from working lands, city streets and other sources. Carbon sequestration is another example: Farmers are increasingly interested in learning how to improve soil and crop sequestration of carbon -- or capture of methane from manure storage areas -- to create credits that can be traded on the Chicago Climate Exchange. We have farmers in the state who are already doing it, and they're leading the rest of the nation."
 
Other findings from the conference include the need for more conscientious land-use planning; improved communication of what agriculture is already doing to address the state's nutrient problem; the need for more effective partnerships, from local leadership to conservation districts and farm groups; and the need to provide statewide indicators of progress being made in achieving an agriculture sector that is in balance.
 
"Economic constraints affect everyone, so there's a need for more partnerships that can package those limited resources and funnel them into areas where they can accomplish things on a broad basis," Saacke Blunk said. "Many organizations have goals of seeing their watersheds unimpaired; those goals can provide windows for pulling partners together and doing more."
 
Saacke Blunk cited the early success of the Conewago Creek Watershed Restoration Plan, crafted by a local watershed association and carried out with the support of three county conservation districts in central Pennsylvania – all with a desire to see their local waterways free of sediment and run-off.
 
"They’ve set regional and community-level goals, because it's all about the local waters -- what you see out back where the kids are fishing," she said. "If we can take that and use it as a basis for action, we'll be taking steps toward our goal of a clean Chesapeake Bay by the year 2010. While that deadline may be moving, Pennsylvanians’ commitment to continue making improvements has not changed."
 
 
For more information, contact Kristen Saacke Blunk at (814) 863-8756, or by e-mail at ksaackeblunk@psu.edu.
 
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Last Updated March 19, 2009