Farmers to be surveyed on use of conservation practices in Chesapeake Bay basin

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If you're a farm operator in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, you soon will have a chance to highlight what steps you and your fellow farmers have taken to protect and enhance water quality in the region.

Several agricultural and governmental organizations have partnered to develop a survey that will ask producers to document conservation practices they have adopted to promote water quality and soil health in the bay watershed.

"Pennsylvania agriculture has done much to improve water quality in our local rivers and streams and the Chesapeake Bay," said Matthew Royer, director of the Agriculture and Environment Center in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Yet that positive story often is not told. We want to give farmers in the bay watershed a chance to tell that story."

More than half of Pennsylvania's land area drains to the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna River, which flows through the state's most fertile farming region, is the bay's largest tributary.

The survey will be administered by the Penn State Survey Research Center, which soon will mail a letter to farmers in the watershed seeking their participation. College of Agricultural Sciences researchers will analyze the survey responses, and cumulative results will be provided to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to document the practices farmers have adopted to conserve soil and water and to protect water quality.

Ten percent of the participants will be selected randomly for farm visits by Penn State Extension to assess inventory results and help researchers better understand the methods used and challenges encountered when adopting various management practices.

Responses will be kept completely confidential and never will be associated with a farmer's name or location, according to James Shortle, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Economics and the lead researcher for the survey.

"The results reported to the Department of Environmental Protection will be provided in summary form and will not include any names or locations of survey participants," Shortle said. "All inventory and farm visit results will be permanently anonymized to prevent identification of respondents."

Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, noted that many of the conservation practices that farmers have implemented over the years are not accounted for in tracking the progress made toward meeting priority water quality goals, including cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

"This is especially true where farmers have adopted these practices on their own initiative and by using their own dollars," Roush said. "This survey will allow farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to report conservation practices implemented on their farms so the agricultural community can get the credit it deserves for improving water quality. We also hope it will help us set priorities for research and extension educational programs that can assist producers in identifying and adopting appropriate best management practices."

Farmers will have the option of filling out the paper version of the survey or completing it online. Participants are asked to submit their responses by April 30.

The survey was developed collaboratively by Penn State, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, PennAg Industries Association, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission, the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Last Updated January 11, 2016