With nearly 84,000 farms and ranches in the six-state Chesapeake watershed region, farmers are doing their part by keeping nutrients on their land and out of the bay.
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The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers with projects to make their operations more environmentally friendly. They're seeing results from the farms all the way to the bay.
Rigdon Farm in Pylesville may look like any ordinary farm, but it's far from it.
"We've been doing conservation practices for a long time, probably since the 80s," said Andy Ridgon, part owner of the farm with her son and husband.
At each of the family's five Maryland farms, the Rigdons make conservation a priority. For example, they practice no-till farming, where the soil is not plowed or disturbed with tools. It's a method that preserves soil quality and reduces erosion and farm runoff.
"We also want to grow the best crop that we can with what we have," she said. "That's why we try to protect our nutrients and our soil."
There's still a lot of work to be done on their newest farm, purchased just two years ago.
"We feel like we have a lot of things to sort of correct and fix on this farm, so we've kind of jumped into it," she said.
The Rigdons repaired a sediment pond and replaced a rusted pipe that was causing water to leak. They also created a waterway on the farm with a rock dam at the end. There are grass strips and borders throughout the property. All of those features serve the same purpose.
"We're just filtering out nutrients before they can get out in the water, and we're trapping sediment to keep sediment from running into the streams and you know, eventually going into the bay," Rigdon said.
Jon Hall, Maryland's state conservationist for NRCS said these types of natural buffers on farm lands are helping to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Any runoff from the Rigdons' farm would flow into nearby Deer Creek, which feeds into the Susquehanna River and later the bay.
"A lot of producers are just good stewards of the land and they see the economic benefit of conservation practice implemented on their place," Hall said.
Through the Farm Bill, NRCS provides grants to farmers to help pay for, design and execute conservation projects on their lands.
The NRCS estimates that since 2006, farmer conservation efforts have reduced sediment entering the bay by 8 percent, nitrogen by six percent and phosphorous by 5 percent. Sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous are the top 3 bay pollutants.
"When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay, it isn't just the agricultural community," Hall said. "I think everyone living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has some commitment to doing some things on their lawns, on the golf courses, sewage treatment facilities. I think all of, all of us have an impact on what's there."
Andy Rigdon has known this for some time. She hopes others see the value in taking care of the land that takes care of them.
"The way we sort of operate is that we like to sort of show by example," she said. "If people see what works here, they might take it back and try it on their place."
As a key part in restoring the bay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set two-year milestones decreasing the amount of pollution each state in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is allowed to put into the bay through 2025
While D.C., Maryland, New York, Virginia and West Virginia are on track to meet their targets, Delaware and Pennsylvania are having issues limiting one or more pollutants.
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