Chesapeake Bay watershed

The Natural Resource Conservation Service recently unveiled a Conservation Strategy to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

WILLIAMSBURG — The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a comprehensive, three-year action plan that outlines its priorities and goals for using current and future Farm Bill conservation programs.

The plan aims to help agricultural producers improve the water quality and overall health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Agriculture is an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s culture and economy, and it plays a critical role in improving water quality and the health of the bay,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action Plan outlines the goals of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for fiscal years 2018-2020. The goals include helping producers implement conservation practices that improve water quality on 920,000 acres, improve soil health on 700,000 acres, and improve fish and wildlife habitat on 120,000 acres.

The plan also prepares to train 4,700 public and private conservation professionals to plan and implement conservation practices that improve water quality, soil health, or fish and wildlife habitat.

Another goal is to increase public participation by engaging 27,700 public and private partners and citizens in Natural Resources Conservation Service public meetings and committees to gain feedback about the agency’s programs and services in the watershed.

As U.S. Department of Agriculture’s private lands conservation agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service developed the action plan, which will rely on financial and technical support Farm Bill conservation programs. These programs help producers plan and implement conservation activities that are scientifically proven to be effective at reducing excess nutrients and sediment loadings.

Since 2009, Natural Resource Conservation Service has helped improve 3.6 million acres of private, working agricultural and forest land within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Natural Resource Conservation Service provided more than $1 billion in technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent Conservation Effects Assessment Project report documented a significant reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus loss resulting from conservation practices implemented since 2006. Farmers have implemented conservation practices on critical cropland acres that helped reduce nitrogen losses by 20 percent and phosphorus losses by 44 percent. In addition, recent monitoring in the bay has shown that submerged aquatic vegetation or bay grasses have recovered to record levels.

The Chesapeake Bay has been the focus of ongoing efforts to improve its water quality and natural resources. Natural Resource Conservation Service works closely with soil and water conservation districts, government agencies and non-government organizations to improve water quality through conservation efforts on public and private lands.

Northey made this announcement from the National Association of Conservation District’s summer meeting in Williamsburg. This meeting pulls together representatives from soil and water conservation districts from around the country, who are important to helping deliver key U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs.

“The [Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action] Plan reaffirms our commitment to continue our partnerships to help agricultural producers plan and implement improvements on their land using voluntary conservation programs,” Northey said.

Learn more about the Natural Resource Conservation Service activities in the watershed by visiting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage. For more information on conservation programs available in your area, contact your local U.S. Department of Agriculture service center.

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