A farm in Maryland
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.

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

Restoring clean water and healthy habitats in the Chesapeake Bay means engaging with Maryland’s largest industry—agriculture.

Agriculture is also the largest contributor to water pollution in the Bay and its tributaries. Rainfall hitting farm fields carries away fertilizers and sediment that degrade the Bay’s ecosystems. Farmers understand this and are becoming increasingly willing to adopt conservation agriculture practices that are good for business and the environment.

In Maryland and across the Bay watershed, TNC works with farmers, landowners, and their trusted agribuisness advisors to support the increased adoption of conservation practices that improve water quality for the Bay and habitat for wildlife. This has been a focus of TNC in Maryland for the past decade.

In 2019, we formalized relationships with four influential agribusinesses that provide equipment, fertilizer and consulting services to farmers across the Delmarva Peninsula. These four new companies expand our portfolio of agribusiness partners to 10 in the state of Maryland. These partnerships will continue to rapidly expand soil health and nutrient stewardship practices on Delmarva farms, resulting in a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Hand-in-hand with these agribusinesses, we enrolled more than 2,100 acres of Delmarva farmland in advanced practices in 2019.

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.
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

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.

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, recently spent two weeks touring U.S. farms with local TNC staff and partners.

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.

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 our Delmarva agricultural communities are fragile and important wetlands that help filter water as it flows from the farms to the Bay and its tributaries. We are using science to restore wetlands and floodplains to filter water and allow water to flow more naturally across the landscape.

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

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.  

In 2019, we restored 350 acres of degraded wetlands, which will improve water quality and habitat for wildlife and for people who depend on a healthy Bay ecosystem. The scale and approach of our wetland restoration work in Maryland has become a case study for the region. In 2020, we will work with our colleagues in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware to identify new opportunities to replicate the best practices we have established in Maryland.

4R Alliance
4R Alliance Information table at 4R Technology Field Day in Greenwood, Delaware, co-sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic 4R Nutrient Stewardship Association. August 22, 2019. © Matt Kane / TNC
4R Technology Field Day
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

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 Maximizing outreach to the agricultural community. © 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

    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