Thursday, June 29, 2017

PA Agriculture Secretary Briefs Congressional Delegation On Impact Of Proposed Federal Chesapeake Bay Program Cuts

PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding Wednesday joined a panel of state officials and economic and environmental experts to brief members of the congressional Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus on the destructive impact President Trump’s proposed budget cuts will have on efforts to clean up the bay watershed.
The panel, organized and moderated by Chesapeake Bay Commission Executive Director Ann Swanson, offered perspectives from government, private and academic leaders who are working to improve water quality for an area that is crucial to the nation’s economy, as well as its food and water supply.
The watershed caucus includes 52 members of Congress from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The following are Secretary Redding’s remarks as prepared.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with information on Pennsylvania agriculture and significant efforts to address water quality and the Chesapeake Bay. We must continue to balance those co-equal goals: strong and viable agriculture with healthy water, soil and air.
As the Secretary of Agriculture – and a lifelong farmer and ag educator – let me be the first to acknowledge that our agriculture sector has a lot of work to do. Our efforts will account for 80 percent of the work required to succeed in this initiative.
This cannot be a conversation about 2025, but needs to address the reality that for farms to remain viable, we need to work together, across all sectors and to focus on conservation for the future of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and water quality.
First, let’s consider some of the demographics concerning the agricultural sector in Pennsylvania.
One county alone (Lancaster) has twice as many dairy cows as Maryland and 25 percent more than found grazing in all of Virginia. There are twice as many farms in this county than in all of Delaware.
Second, let’s add Pennsylvania’s agriculture communities impact to the Chesapeake Bay, based on recent EPA figures: Pennsylvania is responsible for 69 percent of the remaining basin-wide nitrogen load reductions.
Pennsylvania agriculture will likely be responsible for as much, if not more, than 80 percent of those reductions.
The math tells us that Pennsylvania agriculture will be responsible for over half (55 percent) of the remaining basin-wide nitrogen load reductions. Without success by Pennsylvania agriculture, we will not have success in the Bay restoration.
Finally, the impact of the proposed harmful federal funding cuts on Pennsylvania’s ability to continue working with the agriculture community will result in the loss of 35 conservation district Technicians and seven district engineers in 28 bay watershed counties.
These technicians complete agriculture regulatory compliance inspections, work with farmers to develop manure management and agriculture erosion and sediment control plans and facilitate the installation of best management practices.
Funding will be eliminated for 11 to 12 Department of Environmental Protection staff to complete agriculture regulatory compliance inspections.
Approximately $2 million per year for an agriculture Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program for grants to county conservation districts to work with farmers to install agriculture BMPs will be eliminated.
Staffing in USDA’s Service Center Agencies will be reduced to ‘streamline county office operations, reflect reduced Rural Development workload, and encourage private sector conservation planning.’
This will further impact the technical assistance capacity of Pennsylvania to provide assistance to farmers to get practices on the ground.
Since the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy was started in January 2016, Pennsylvania has made significant progress toward accelerating the implementation of the program to meet the commitment of the Total Maximum Daily Load reduction goals by 2025.
Some recent initiatives have included county conservation district and DEP staff completing more than 1,125 small farm inspections between Oct. 2016 and March 2017, and a January 2016 Penn State University survey of roughly 22,000 PA Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers requesting that they voluntarily report Best Management Practices they have instituted without government cost-sharing.
Thirty percent of surveys were completed (6,751). Final survey results announced on Dec. 16, 2016 showed the following:
-- 475,800 acres of nutrient/manure management;
-- 97,562 acres of enhanced nutrient management;
-- 2,164 animal-waste storage units;
-- 2,106 barnyard runoff-control systems;
-- 55,073 acres of agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plans;
-- 228,264 acres of conservation plans;
-- More than 1.3 million linear feet of stream-bank fencing;
-- 1,757 acres of grass riparian buffers; and
-- 5,808 acres of forested riparian buffers.
These results have been successfully incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model.
Total estimated reductions delivered to the Bay to be attributed to these practices included 1,047,704 pounds of nitrogen, 79,620 pounds of phosphorous and 10,395,906 pounds of sediment per year.
These results are not an anomaly nor did they happen without dedicated resources, capacity, and funding. I recognize that there is still room for improvement.
Pennsylvania agriculture is committed to this effort and will continue to be good stewards of the land and vast natural resources we are blessed to have in our state.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay efforts, visit DEP’s Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.
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