A large field surrounds a farm.
Pennsylvania Farm A large field surrounds a farm in Pennsylvania. © The Nature Conservancy/George C. Gress

The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania

Agriculture in Pennsylvania

Farms represent the backbone of Pennsylvania's heritage and economy.

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.

Two hands hold brown soil.
Hands In Soil Healthy soils are important to growing food, supporting wildlife and storing carbon. © Mike Wilkinson

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.

Nature Conservancy scientists, economists and agriculture experts found that improving soil health on half of U.S. soy, wheat and corn croplands could deliver up to $7.4 billion in environmental and economic benefits by 2025.

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

An infographic about farming and nutrients.
4R Principles The Nature Conservancy is part of a 4R Alliance dedicated to implementing sustainable farming processes around the state. © The Nature Conservancy

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