Northern PA Farmers Credited for Improved Watershed Quality


Photo by Rick Hiduk

The Susquehanna River winds between the borough of Meshoppen and farmlands in Mehoopany and Meshoppen Townships. Watershed quality in the Endless Mountains region is being improved via partnerships with farm owners and agencies like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In a report issued by The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) last month, the important role that farmers play in protecting the Susquehanna River watershed was emphasized with details that pointed to successes in CBF’s Buffer Bonus program.

Forty-one farmers in Bradford, Susquehanna, Sullivan, Wyoming and Lycoming Counties committed a total of 430 acres of streamside farmland for the establishment of forested buffers that stave erosion, reduce runoff from farm fields and provide habitat for wildlife.

Thirty-six miles of the 35-foot wide buffers have been established. The same 41 farmers are also credited with implementing 219 different eco-friendly conservation practices on their farms.

Stats like these are helping Pennsylvania meet its Clean Water Blueprint requirements and improving the quality of the water 400 miles away in the Chesapeake Bay.

These improvements all have positive impacts on the water quality,” said Stephanie Eisenbise, CBF’s state Watershed Manager, “while at the same time help to improve the overall productivity of the farm.”

Buffer Bonus is seen as a win-win by dairy farmer Bill Houseknecht of Columbia Crossroads, Bradford County. His participation in the program led to the installation by CBF of a manure storage facility in which Houseknecht can retain up to seven months of manure.

It’s been a tremendous labor savings to us, especially in the winter when you don’t have to worry about spreading it on the snow,” said Houseknecht, who noted that manure previous ly had to be spread twice a day, regardless of the weather.

Manure storage units and buffer zones are just two of many ways that farmers can improve the health of their barnyard and field-to-stream environment. The program also supports livestock stream fencings and crossings, construction of containment facilities for milkhouse waste, controlling runoff for barnyards and pastures, and improvements to barnyard areas and livestock lanes.

The Clean Water Blueprint outlines Pennsylvania’s goals for meeting pollution reductions from farming,” Eisenbach remarked. “And, farm-by-farm, these goals are being met.”

Funding for the Blueprint were realized through a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, Pa DEP Growing Greener, and CBF’s Buffer Bonus. In addition to manure storage facilities, participating farmers took on state-compliant soil conservation and manure management plans. Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans were developed for 28 of the agricultural operations.

Streams in the northern region of the state are very important because they are the headwaters to the Susquehanna River,” Eisenbise related. “So this work not only helps improve water quality here at home but also nearly 400 miles away in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Addition funding for CBF’s Buffer Bonus comes from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the USDA Farm Service Agency. 

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