The sun rises over a farm in Maryland. A tractor drives past several low outbuildings flanked by five towering silos.
Maryland Agriculture The sun sets behind grain silos near Cambridge MD. © Adrian Jones, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Stories in Maryland/DC

Sustainable Agriculture

Protecting clean water and the Chesapeake Bay.

This page was updated on November 15, 2020.

Since the mid-1970s, TNC has been working on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to protect some of the state’s most iconic habitats. During that time, TNC built a reputation of trust and respect with local farming communities.

Collaborating for Success Trey Hill operates 10,000 acres of rented farmland in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay region. Joe Hickman is one of 60 landowners from whom he rents. Trey and Joe work together to use soil health and nutrient management practices for the benefit of their business, the environment and their community.

Working with Farmers to Transform Agriculture

The world’s population is growing, and so is the demand for food. Over the past century, agriculture has become the dominant land use and largest source of freshwater pollution across the globe and here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

Despite the fact that the human population in the region has more than doubled in the past 50 years, water quality in the Bay has actually improved. How have farmers contributed to this great success story? The answer is regenerative agriculture.

A man holds green soybean pods in his hands. He is surrounded by tall green plants.
Regenerative Agriculture A farmer inspects a soybean crop at the Hutchinson Brothers Farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore. © Isaac Shaw
A group of people stand together listening to a presentation. They are surrounded by tall, narrow grain silos.
4R Technology Field Day Through the 4R Alliance, we provide farmers with tools and education to apply the right nutrient sources, in the right places, at the right time, and at the right rate. © Matt Kane
Regenerative Agriculture A farmer inspects a soybean crop at the Hutchinson Brothers Farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore. © Isaac Shaw
4R Technology Field Day Through the 4R Alliance, we provide farmers with tools and education to apply the right nutrient sources, in the right places, at the right time, and at the right rate. © Matt Kane

This method of food production incorporates practices that improve biodiversity, water quality and climate resiliency on farmland. The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the Delaware Maryland Agribusiness Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with over 30 other NGO, government and private partners formed the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in 2014 to support farmers, landowners and agribusinesses across Delmarva in the implementation of regenerative agriculture practices. A first of its kind, the partnership achieved incredible results before it concluded in 2020.

Field to Stream Report

Final summary of the Delmarva Conservation Partnership From Field to Stream RCPP project.

Download

Over the five-year program lifespan, the RCPP assisted local farmers in the implementation of advanced in-field technological practices on more than 13,700 acres of Delmarva farmland. These advanced practices improved not only water quality and habitat, but also the farmers’ bottom lines. The Delaware–Maryland 4R Alliance was formed as part of the RCPP and will serve as the mechanism through which TNC and partners will work with farmers on regenerative agriculture into the future.

This project was only possible with the support of our partners. Collectively, they supported the goals of this venture with science, outreach and restoration projects totaling over $9M in contributions. Partners include the Chesapeake Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Ducks Unlimited, NOAA, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Soil Country Conservation Districts, France Merrick Foundation, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Drone view looking down on 8 people standing at the edge of a forested wetland. The water is dark brown from a recent flood.
Pocomoke Restoration Drone footage showing water receding from a recent flood event along the Pocomoke River. The breach on the right is dry indicating water is staying in the floodplain. © Andrew Martin / Delaware Wildlands

Freeing a Trapped River

The RCPP also helped permanently protect and restore more than 2,900 acres of wetlands, a substantial portion of which stemmed from one of the largest ecological restoration projects in Maryland’s history, the Pocomoke River restoration project

The 73-mile long Pocomoke River drains water from four Delmarva counties. In the mid-20th century, an 18-mile section of the Pocomoke was dredged and channelized, disconnecting the river from thousands of acres of floodplain. 

To date, working with parners, we have restored more than 3,000 acres of floodplain wetlands which will help reduce erosion and improve water quality and habitat for wildlife and for people who depend on a healthy Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. 

When this project is complete in the next two to three years, the Pocomoke River will see an annual reduction of 71,000 pounds of total nitrogen, 7,600 pounds of total phosphorus and 47,500 pounds of total sediment into the Chesapeake Bay.

Freeing a Trapped River Reversing a legacy of ditching and draining to reconnect the Pocomoke River to its floodplain wetlands.

Scaling Sustainable Agriculture   

Our work with agricultural partners isn't limited to the Eastern Shore. Around the world TNC is fostering innovations in technology, collaborating with agricultural communities and agribusinesses, and promoting policies that enable sustainable framing practices.

Five people stand in a field of knee high soybean plants. One man holds a plant in his hands showing the healthy roots.
From Maryland to China Maryland farmer Trey Hill points out visual evidence of healthy soil in his soybean field during a visit by Ying Li and Nan Zeng, leaders of TNC's China Agriculture team. © TNC

TNC is making important investments in growing our sustainable agriculture program in China, the world’s most populous country. Agriculture is a vital industry in China, employing over 300 million farmers. For context, that’s roughly the entire population of the United States.

Improving efficiencies and reducing the environmental impacts of the agricultural industry in China will be a huge win for people and nature. However, China is behind the U.S. when it comes to the widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices. To accelerate the adoption of these practices in China, Ying Li and Nan Zeng, leaders of TNC’s China Ag team, spent two weeks touring U.S. farms with local TNC staff and partners during a visit in 2019.

Ying and Nan’s first stop was Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, Maryland where they learned about precision nitrogen application, cover crops and soil health from farm owner/operator Trey Hill and agribusiness partner Mike Twining of Willard Agri-Service.

Contact

Amy Jacobs
Agriculture Program Director
Email: ajacobs@tnc.org

Additional Resources

  • Working together for clean water, habitat for plants and animals, and thriving agriculture.

    Delmarva Conservation Partnership Fact Sheet

    Working together for clean water, habitat for plants and animals, and thriving agriculture.

    DOWNLOAD
  • The restoration of the Pocomoke floodplain is one of the largest ecological restoration efforts in Maryland’s history.

    Pocomoke River Floodplain Restoration Fact Sheet

    Reversing a legacy of ditching and draining to reconnect the Pocomoke River to its floodplain wetlands.

    DOWNLOAD