As we continue to support farmers, the Agriculture Team is learning and researching more about sustainable practices that can support our local farming communities. Many of the practices have both water and climate change mitigation benefits. In particular, nature-based practices such as riparian forest buffers, vegetative environmental buffers, and silvopasture are among the most cost-effective practices.

A group of people planting trees in a field

Alliance staff and volunteers plant a riparian forest buffer on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on October 13, 2021.

In addition, we are also researching manure management practices that can be a good fit for our small farms. This includes manure covers and flares, manure stacking, compost bedded pack, small-scale digesters, manure separators, and more. For the most part, these practices have been implemented and studied in large farms. However, in the Chesapeake Watershed, the majority of our local farms are small family farms that cannot adopt many of these technologies (e.g. anerobic digestors) because they do not have the sufficient number of cows to operate the equipment, or because they cannot afford them. Our team is working with different technical service providers (TSPs), funders, corporations and dairy coops to pilot a couple of these manure management technologies in small dairies.

We have also participated in conferences to connect with different companies and experts that can help us to understand and support these innovative practices. Last fall, the Agriculture Team had the opportunity to attend the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Phoenix, AZ. We connected with corporations, nonprofits, and academia professionals who are also working on sustainability and agriculture. Many are looking to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their supply chain. Likewise, our partners are also interested in reducing their carbon print, but the challenge or advantage, depending how you see it, is the different sizes and types of operations that we have in the Chesapeake Bay region. This offers an opportunity to be creative and come up with solutions that are not traditional.

A group of people smiling

The Alliance Agriculture Team at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.

For instance, we are working with a number of partners on the implementation of small-scale digesters. This is very simple technology that allows farmers to collect manure in a large bag that functions as a digestor, where the methane cannot escape into the atmosphere. Instead, it is retained in the digester bag. Then, the methane gas can either be flared and converted to CO2, or it can be used as a source of energy. Ideally, we would like to be able to use this methane to power generators. Our farmers, the majority of whom are Plain Sect, use diesel fuel to run the milking and cooling equipment. By using methane to run the generators instead of using diesel, the farmers would be able to significantly reduce GHG emissions and save on fuel costs. Additionally, the water quality benefit can be significant, since the manure is retained and stored, which avoids runoff.

A Lancaster County, Pennsylvania dairy farm that received support from Sustainable Dairy PA, a partnership between the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Hershey Company, and Land O’Lakes.

The farmers we work with are extremely interested in adopting these practices because they can improve their operations and ultimately, their bottom line. These practices will help the overall sustainability of farmers and the environment.

There are currently funding opportunities to implement these types of practices, but small farms cannot start these projects alone, due to technical, time, and financial restraints. The Alliance in partnership with our corporate partners like Hershey and Land O Lakes are working on creating a program that can prioritize the implementations of these practices and offer financial support to participating farmers. Investing in these kinds of projects is a win-win for everyone! We continue to support our farmers by implementing sustainable practices that fit their needs and help to improve the environment.