Farming—it represents the backbone of Pennsylvania's heritage and economy. However, in the 21st century, the agriculture industry faces pressing challenges related to producing enough food, fuel and fiber to support a rapidly increasing population without harming our lands and waters.
As one of six states comprising the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed., Pennsylvania also has an enormous responsibility for ensuring that pollution and excess nutrients from cities, industries and farms is stored and filtered before entering local waterways. With this in mind, The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers and agri-businesses to promote practices that improve water quality in streams and rivers, and ultimately in our nation’s largest estuary.
Starting With Soils
Pennsylvania farmers know that healthy soil is the cornerstone of life on Earth. Healthy soils contain beneficial bacteria and nutrients that aid in food production. They also filter and store water, capture carbon and provide resilience in the face of variable weather. Healthy soils provide a true foundation for clean water and productive land for people and nature.
For food production, farmers add nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to soil. However, excess nutrients not used by plants, and not stored in soils, can run off into local waterways. That is why many farmers are exploring a variety of tools and methods for keeping good soil, and associated nutrients, on their fields. These efforts benefit the farmer and lead to cleaner waterways and drinking water.
Protecting Food and Water
The Nature Conservancy is working as part of a statewide alliance of farmers, agribusinesses, government agencies, researchers and conservationists seeking practices that will help local growers meet the rising demand for food in a sustainable and economically feasible way. This collaborative effort centers around "the 4Rs of Nutrient Management"--the right source of nutrients are applied at the right rate at the right time in the right place. The 4Rs serve as a checklist for assessing whether a crop has been properly fertilized to perform better, improve soil health, decrease environmental pollution and protect wildlife.
The PA 4R Alliance and TNC are also examining sustainable agricultural practices that reach beyond nutrient application such as reducing tillage and using cover crops. And TNC continues to restore stream and wetland habitats to improve water quality around the state. Many of these practices are on display at TNC's Acopian Preserve.