Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, CBF urge funding bill
HELLUM, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau held a conference on April 26 to urge passage of Senate Bill 465 in the Pennsylvania Senate.
While the event was held at Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm Market, news organizations could participate virtually.
The bill would create an Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program to provide funding for county conservation districts to work directly with local farmers’ conservation projects.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert pointed out that farmers continually employ many conservation practices with cover crops, streambank fencing, riparian buffers and more.
Quality, healthy, clean water and fertile topsoil are part of farmer stewardship, Ebert says, noting “Farmers want to be part of the solution,”
Much of farm conservation efforts benefit the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Ebert said.
He added, “They want to do more.” But many projects involve high prices, and agriculture has been harder in the past several years.
If adopted, Senate Bill 465 will help pay for accelerated efforts. State Senator Gene Yaw sponsored the bill.
He told the group, “The bottom line is water.”
He related stories about the bender salamander, reporting, “We got flack about ‘worrying about it’ when COVID and other problems were there.”
But he explained that the hellbinder is like the “canary in the coal mine.”
Despite being really ugly, with much name calling reflecting its appearance, the hellbender has made a comeback due to greater conservation efforts in this area.
It had virtually disappeared a few years earlier.
Looking at the Conservation Assistance Program, Yaw pointed out that modeling it after the very successful dirt and gravel program should prove effective.
“We know that program works,” he said.
The program is set up to provide funding specifically where its needed.
Local county conservation districts and the county commissioners will be in the decision making and they are knowledgeable about the whereabouts of runoff and livestock proximity in their areas.
County conservation districts provide expertise as well.
The program can receive funds from additional sources, including gifts.
Yaw reminded his audience that Pennsylvania has 80,000 miles of streams —a fourth of them are impaired. A third of the Susquehanna Watershed’s streams are impaired.
Forty-three of the Commonwealth’s sixty-seven counties have streams that demand conservation tools.
Ebert cited the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s partnership in the cleanup efforts.
Shannon Gority pointed to her one-year anniversary as CBF’s Executive Director and of the improvements of cleaning the wastewater treatment plants. She said,
“Everyone wants agriculture to succeed.” The economy, health and quality of life are on the line.
Gority noted the presence of other farm assistance programs, including NRCS, but there is a backlog of property owners seeking funding.
“The demand and will is there,” she stated.
It’s a win-win where the land is protected, Gority stressed. The investment in agriculture puts people to work and increases the natural assets. Moreover, Gority stated, “The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is looking forward to the legacy of healthy soil and clean water for generations.”
Ebert noted that Andrew Flinchbaugh helped develop the plan. The event’s host farm, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm Market, near York, features their own fruits and vegetables, baked items, gifts and plants plus farm tours, festivals and community events.
Flinchbaugh told the group that their diversified farm’s goals continues to provide competitive economic returns plus building a better future,
They practice sustainability, crop rotation, no-till, cover crops, pest management, soil testing and tissue sampling.
He added, “We have systems approach.” Conservation for the farm boosts yields and sustains their goals. The family desires to leave the farm better than they received it.
Flinchbaugh said in eight years they updated or devised 39 new conservation plans.
They incorporate miles of stream buffers and grasses.
He reported, “If a farm loses nutrients, there is less yield.”
The speakers agreed that financial backing is important in achieving water quality goals. Local communities, too, benefit as well as the Chesapeake Bay.