Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Brandywine Red Clay Alliance: Agriculture’s Role In A Clean Watershed: The Whole Farm Approach

Agriculture has always held immense importance in Pennsylvania's communities. As the backbone of the state's heritage, farming contributes to Pennsylvania’s cultural fabric and drives the economy. 

With 52,000 farms spanning over 7.3 million acres of farmland, agriculture sustains 1 in 10 jobs in Pennsylvania. 

The Keystone State's farm families act as stewards of their land and play a vital role in preserving and enhancing the environment and water quality.

The health of watersheds is directly impacted by agriculture’s nutrient pollution into the water stream, but thanks to recent sustained efforts by farmers through projects like the Upper East Branch Red Clay Creek Watershed Restoration Project, that source of pollution is on the decline.

In 2010, the Upper East Branch Red Clay Creek Watershed Assessment Report and Restoration Plan was completed with the aim of addressing impairments to water quality in the watershed. 

Since then, the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance (BRC) has completed five stream restoration projects addressing stream bank erosion on nearly two miles of stream. 

Subsequently, the project team at BRC embarked on a mission to restore the headwaters of the East Branch through a multifaceted and comprehensive approach. 

“Looking at the headwaters, we realized that six landowners owned relatively large parcels that deliver water to the headwater stream. Four of those landowners included agricultural croplands and three have equine operations. These landowners also had a strong interest in the wildlife habitats along their stream corridor as well as water quality. We realized that by implementing a 'whole farm approach' through looking at the entire property and its operations to see where we can potentially improve stormwater run-off quality and quantity, working with the property owners and a conservation-minded farmer, we could address multiple impacts on the stream in one comprehensive plan,” said Brian Winslow, Watershed Conservation Director at BRC. 

This plan encompasses two project areas and includes multiple practices including the relocation of three horse paddocks away from a headwater pond and stream as well as planting riparian tree buffers. 

Working with the Brandywine Conservancy, Winslow and the BRC are adding a new bio-char filter at the end of a grass swale that can help to remove excess nutrients from the farm stormwater runoff similar to a Brita filter. 

The project also includes two stream restoration plans that address actively eroding stream banks and addresses a road flooding issue with our municipal partner.

The project, funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and others, stands out for its comprehensive approach to restoring the catchment and addresses multiple issues facing the land simultaneously, such as encouraging the growth of native vegetation and working in partnership with farmers. 

One of the key individuals driving the success of this project is Jamie Hicks, a conservation services farmer from Hicks Brother IV. Hicks plays a pivotal role in establishing connections with each of the landowners involved and fostering a collaborative environment for the comprehensive "whole farm" approach. 

“There was a period when farming got a bad reputation for damaging the environment. As a farmer, we care about water and soil quality as much as others and we want to implement the right conservation practices, for better soil and water quality even if we don’t own the lands we farm on,” said Hicks.  “We support education and partnerships with landowners and organizations like BRC to implement practices like riparian buffers, grassed waterways, and other erosion control measures.”

Hicks’ expertise and commitment to conservation farming methods, such as no-till farming and cover crops, have been instrumental in implementing sustainable practices on these parcels. 

Jamie has been implementing these and other innovative farming practices at BRC’s Myrick Conservation Center for over 20 years demonstrating how agriculture and conservation can be implemented together.

The benefits of a whole farm approach extend far beyond the restoration of the watershed. 

The projected increase in fish habitats, improved water quality, and the strengthened bond between the agricultural community and the local residents are just a few examples of the positive outcomes. 

By adopting sustainable practices, Pennsylvania farmers are not only safeguarding the environment and creating a secure future for their business, but also building a stronger connection with the community they serve.

The Upper East Branch Red Clay Creek Watershed Restoration Project serves as a shining example of the benefits that a whole farm approach can bring to the agriculture sector and the environment. 

By addressing multiple factors simultaneously, this project demonstrates the potential for restoring and maintaining clean and healthy watersheds. 

The success achieved here should serve as an example for continued water restoration projects and inspire more progress in water health, especially in agricultural areas. 

Visit the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance website for more information.  Media questions should be directed to Sarah Ball at

(Photos: New riparian buffer in former horse paddock; Students from West Chester University volunteered to plant trees around the headwater pond, courtesy of Brandywine Red Clay Alliance.)

(Contributed by Brandywine Red Clay Alliance.)

Related Articles - Watershed Buffers:

-- Celebrate Riparian Buffers Month In October!  With Penn State Extension, Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council, Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center  [PaEN]

-- Register Now!  PA Statewide Watershed Conference Oct. 29-30 In Altoona  [PaEN]

-- Master Watershed Stewards Celebrate 10 Years Of Making A Difference  [PaEN]

-- Penn State Extension Future Master Watershed Steward Program Scaling Up  [PaEN]

NewsClip This Week:

-- Outdoor Life: Bill Would Divert $150 Million From Game Commission, Threaten Federal Wildlife Funding In PA 

-- Erie Times - Brian Whipkey: Groups Oppose State’s Attempt To Move Money From Game Commission To Another Fund

-- NRCS-PA Announces Conservation Funding Opportunities For FY 2024

-- US Forest Service Now Accepting Applications For Local Community Forest Programs, Deadline Jan. 12

-- PA Assn. Of Environmental Educators Oct. 3 Wildlife Conservation Science, Outdoor Recreation Curriculum, Noon to 1:00 p.m.

-- Penn State Extension: 4-Part Webinar Series: Primer For Forest Management And Birds Thru Oct. 18 

-- Penn State Extension: Nov. 14 PA Forest Seminar Webinar - Benefits Of Large Woody Debris In Streams, Noon and 7:00 p.m.

-- Save The Date: Keystone Coldwater Conference Feb. 23-24 In State College

-- Williamsport Sun: Project Underway To Rebuild Fishing Creek Trout Habitat, Boost Economy, Help Environment In Clinton County

-- The Nature Conservancy-PA: Blakeslee Preserve Stream Restoration Project, Cherry Valley National Refuge In Monroe County [Video]

Related Articles This Week:

-- House Environmental Committee Holds Hearing On Bill To Protect Stream Buffers Oct. 2   [PaEN] 

-- Brandywine Red Clay Alliance: Agriculture’s Role In A Clean Watershed: The Whole Farm Approach  [PaEN]

-- Republican Herald Editorial: Wildlife Corridors Would Help Drivers, Animals  [PaEN]

[Posted: September 27, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner