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Agriculture Initiative

Agricultural Technical Assistance Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay Region

 

Across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, decision makers including funders and policy makers,continue to hear anecdotal evidence about the critical need for more technical assistance, literally ‘boots on the ground’, to support agricultural operations in meeting conservation and nutrient management planning and improved farm management goals under the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).   Given the increased importance of technical assistance to the ability of the agricultural sector to achieve its conservation goals, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network conducted a systematic assessment of the existing technical assistance capacity.  This assessment identified program and organizational challenges as well as future staffing needs; providing a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of the problem and potential solutions.  To access the full report click here



Strengthening Agriculture Communities, Promoting Healthy Waters

Financing the restoration of the nation’s largest estuary is complex and costly, with federal and state partnerships continually working to fund a diverse set of programs established by Congress and state legislatures to bring back balance to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.  In the process, government programs have set parameters for implementation and limitations on how funding can be used.

In 2005, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) was commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network to maximize the effectiveness of funder investments designed to reduce the amount of pollution from the agricultural sector.  This effort, led by UMCES Senior Research Coordinator Connie Musgrove, has created a dynamic partnership aimed at aligning priorities, targeting specific geographic areas, and leveraging funding resources to foster the development of more economically-sustainable agricultural communities.

Building a Network

Initially funded through a generous grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and matched by several CBFN members, the CBFN Strong Communities, Healthy Waters Agriculture Initiative is a broad, collaborative network among people, organizations, and funders in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to support conservation innovation and market-based solutions that sustain the region’s rural agricultural communities, address their important challenges, and better protect its natural resources. 

This initiative is harnessing the power of both leveraged resources and producer-oriented partnerships in the field.

The initiative seeks to expand the limited number of programs designed to enable agricultural leaders and their communities to share, connect, and transfer the results of on-the-ground conservation projects by communicating lessons learned and creating working collaborations that extend beyond the life of specific projects. By growing these programs, the CBFN is:
  • Capitalizing on the innovative efforts of its current pilot projects by using them as the foundation for a collaborative capacity–building network
  • Expanding these networking and communications efforts to reach a growing number of communities and organizations
  • Supporting partnerships around additional pilot projects that create market-based solutions to manage livestock waste, thus “growing” a larger networking effort

All of this work is designed to support the twin goals of sustaining strong agricultural communities and restoring the health of the region’s waters. The Agriculture Initiative prioritizes the innovative delivery of sorely underfunded technical assistance to farmers and the management of excess manure. It also targets the geographic “hot spots” of excess agricultural manure – the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the lower Susquehanna River Basin, and the Eastern Shore.

Expanding the Network

Working from the “ground up”, Ms. Musgrove engages local agricultural leaders, field experts, and farmers on designing responsible and innovative solutions that change farmers conservation behaviors. In addition, each of the completed projects completes a guide for transferring “lessons learned” to other communities with knowledge on context, steps, and insights that will help others replicate the efforts..

The seven pilot projects embrace the following parameters:


NEW in 2011-2012: Manure-to-Energy Innovation Project

In 2011, the CBFN partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and others to develop a Farm Manure to Energy proposal as part of its continuing Agriculture Initiative.  This project is designed to accelerate adoption of “best fit” technology for livestock operations that improve water quality, generate energy either through heat or fuel such as electricity, and contribute to farm sustainability via marketable by-products or reducing overall farm costs. 

NFWF and its partners were awarded a three-year, $848,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Innovation Grant to pursue this collaboration.  The farm manure-to-energy project seeks to close the knowledge gap regarding manure to energy technologies in the region by:

  1. Developing a clearinghouse of technology information; 
  2. Creating a network of manure-to-energy experts in the watershed; 
  3. Identifying and installing appropriate showcase demonstration technologies for at least four farm or small community- scale cooperatives; 
  4. Creating model financial templates for grant funding and financing to implement technologies; 
  5. Evaluating performance and cost-effectiveness of the demonstration technologies; and 
  6. Actively conducting outreach to inform scale-up of successful models.

PROJECT STATUS:  The project is in the initial start-up phase.  The partnership is focusing early efforts on identifying technologies that can covert manure to energy (and other valuable products), reduce fertilizer loss to surface waters, and are suitable for demonstration on farms in the region.  Two technologies have already been selected for demonstration on two poultry farms - one on the Eastern Shore (MD) and the other in the Shenandoah Valley (VA).

Questions about the Farm Manure to Energy Initiative may be directed to Kristen Hughes Evans at Kristin@sustainablechesapeake.org.

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Megan Milliken,
Feb 14, 2012, 9:13 AM
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