A farm in Maryland
FARM IN MARYLAND Restoring clean water and healthy habitats in the Chesapeake Bay means engaging with Maryland’s largest industry—agriculture—to reduce excess nutrient and sediment runoff. ©: Kent W. Mason

Stories in Maryland/DC

How We Work: Sustainable Agriculture

Engaging with Maryland’s largest industry.

Restoring clean water and healthy habitats in the Chesapeake Bay means engaging with Maryland’s largest industry—agriculture—to keep nutrients on our farms and out of our waters.

An egret hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay.
Hunting Egret An egret hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay. © Matt Kane / The Nature Conservancy

Working with Farmers

The rural Delmarva Peninsula, tucked between the rich waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the great Atlantic Ocean, is the agricultural engine that helps feed the mid-Atlantic. Agriculture can also help to drive a clean Chesapeake Bay.  

As the region's population continues to grow, along with the demand for food, we must work with our agriculture partners to improve farming practices that will support a thriving industry and improve water quality.

The Nature Conservancy works with farmers and agribusinesses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to accelerate the adoption of new and emerging technologies and best practices, from the precision application of fertilizer on fields to planting natural buffers between the fields and streams to help absord nutrients before they reach the Chesapeake Bay.

With our partners at the Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association, we connected with more than 1,600 farmers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 2018, providing tools and education to help them farm more efficiently and more sustainably. This work leads to healthier bottom lines for farmers and a healthier Bay for people and nature.

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.
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

Surrounding the farms on the Eastern Shore are networks of ditches, streams and rivers that drain most of the Delmarva Peninsula into the Bay. We are using science to restore wetlands and floodplains to filter water and allow water to flow more naturally across the landscape.

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

Outside a river’s main channel, water spreads out and is slowed by vegetation.  Sediment settles out of the water, and nutrients in the water are used by plants and trees in the floodplain. This natural process helps to reduce erosion and improve water quality.

In 2017, we marked the completion of phase one of one of the largest ecological restoration efforts in Maryland’s history. We restored more than 1,900 acres of floodplains along the Pocomoke River, a key tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2018, we added to that number by restoring more than 1,000 acres of floodplain wetlands in the Pocomoke and Nanticoke River watersheds.  

This scale and impact could not have been achieved without the collaboration of several federal, state and private partners. We are working to replicate this best practice across the Chesapeake Bay watershed and around the world.

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

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT

The Nature Conservancy and The Delaware Maryland Agribusiness Association joined forces to convene the Delmarva Conservation Partnership. This unique public-private collaboration brings together over 30 groups - including conservation organizations, agribusiness, government agencies, and the scientific community - to advance nutrient management practices and to strategically protect and restore wetlands.

With initial funding provided through a $10M partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Delmarva Conservation Partnership committed to achieving the following 5-year goals:

  • Improve nutrient management practices on 37,000 acres of farmland
  • Protect 1,500 acres of natural filters including wetlands and buffers
  • Eliminate 300,000 pounds of nitrogen delivered to local waterways each year
  • Eliminate 10,000 pounds of phosphorus delivered to local waterways each year
  • Eliminate 20,000 pounds of sediment delivered to local waterways each year
TNC's Amy Jacobs and Keiller Kyle at the 4R Technology Field Day on August 15, 2018 at the Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown, Maryland.
4-R Field Day TNC's Amy Jacobs and Keiller Kyle at the 4R Technology Field Day on August 15, 2018 at the Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown, Maryland. © Matt Kane / TNC

To maximize our outreach to the agricultural community, we partnered with the Delaware–Maryland Agribusiness Association to form the Chesapeake 4R Alliance to advance farmers' nutrient management practices and continue making progress toward clean water and healthy habitats for the Chesapeake Bay.  The alliance includes agribusiness representatives, state and federal agencies, research institutions, and conservation organizations.

Through the 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 (the 4Rs). Participation in the 4R program not only benefits the Chesapeake Bay, it increases food production and profitability for participating farmers.

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

    (1.28 MB PDF)

    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

    (2.78 MB PDF)

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

    DOWNLOAD