Farm­ers play valu­able role in wa­ter qual­ity progress

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Com­mu­nity Voice By JOE BARTEN­FELDER, ED KEE, RUS­SELL RED­DING, TODD HAYMORE & WALT HELMICK

No one to­day lives and works closer to our land and wa­ter than Amer­ica’s farm­ers. As agri­cul­ture sec­re­taries and com­mis­sion­ers from Ch­e­sa­peake Bay re­gion states, we value and strongly ap­pre­ci­ate the con­tri­bu­tions that our 141,000 farm­ers make — in jobs and eco­nomic im­pact, in en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship, and in pro­duc­ing food for our re­gion, na­tion and the world.

Among our five states — Delaware, Maryland, Penn- syl­va­nia, Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia — there are more than 9 mil­lion acres of har­vested crop­land, or roughly the same size as 4.4 mil­lion city blocks. Our farm­ers raise more than 1 bil­lion chick­ens for meat each year, grow fruits and veg­eta­bles on more than 143,000 acres, and pro­duce enough milk to sup­ply nearly a quar­ter of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

Th­ese in­cred­i­ble num­bers stem di­rectly from the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion of our farm fam­i­lies. Con­trary to pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion, more than 98 per­cent of our states’ farms are fam­ily-owned — a truly stag­ger­ing fact.

Many peo­ple are con­cerned about the health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay — none more so than farm­ers, who rely on our land and wa- ter to grow so much food. That’s why they and we were pleased to hear re­cent re­ports from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram that es­ti­mated ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rous and sed­i­ment go­ing into the Bay have all dropped over the last six years — by 8, 20 and 7 per­cent, re­spec­tively. The Uni­ver­sity of Maryland’s Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence re­cently gave the Bay its third high­est health score in three decades, not­ing progress in sev­eral ar­eas. And mon­i­tor­ing data from the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey in­di­cates that the per-acre nutrient and sed­i­ment loads are de­clin­ing at a ma­jor­ity of the mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions across our five states.

That’s a re­flec­tion of the progress in a va­ri­ety of sec­tors, in­clud­ing waste­water treat­ment, stormwa­ter man­age­ment, ur­ban runoff and agri­cul­ture. For our farm­ers, it’s the lat­est news that their hard work is pay­ing off. Our agen­cies work closely with our sis­ter state-level en­vi­ron­men­tal part­ners and the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, but the real praise should go to the farm­ers. The prac­tices they use and the strate­gies and plans they have put in place truly are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Just as a great deal of at­ten­tion has been paid to the Bay over the last decade, a sim­i­lar fo­cus on agri­cul­ture is war­ranted from pol­i­cy­mak­ers at all lev­els to make sure poli­cies are in place that al­low for safe, af­ford­able, and abun­dant food for the fu­ture. Some might think hav­ing pro­duc­tive farms and clean wa­ter are con­tra­dic­tory pur­suits. They are not. Clean wa­ter de­pends on healthy, vi­able farms and healthy, vi­able farms de­pend on clean wa­ter. Achiev­ing both is our goal.

Ev­ery­one who cares about food and is con­cerned about our wa­ter re­sources can­not just sit back and watch; we must act so we do not jeop­ar­dize our abil­ity to main­tain and en­hance food pro­duc­tion. All peo­ple in­volved in th­ese dis­cus­sions should be con­scious of the need to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity with­out com­pro­mis­ing our po­ten­tial to grow food be­cause the fu­ture de­mands it.

There are sev­eral bil­lion peo­ple in the world to­day. There will be an­other 2 bil­lion peo­ple in­hab­it­ing the planet by 2050. Feed­ing a world of 9 bil­lion peo­ple makes Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture — and the co-equal goals of healthy farms and clean wa­ter — all the more im­por­tant. Yes, there is more work to do, but we are tak­ing the right steps now, act­ing with proper de­lib­er­a­tion, to en­sure that pol­i­cy­mak­ers 30 years from now will not find them­selves ex­am­in­ing why we have lost our abil­ity to pro­duce food here in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed.

Ed Kee is Delaware sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture; Joe Barten­felder is Maryland sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture; Rus­sell Red­ding is Penn­syl­va­nia sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture; Todd Haymore is Vir­ginia sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture and forestry; and Walt Helmick is West Vir­ginia com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture.

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