A Closer Look At NRCS's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Update

While 97% of Chesapeake Bay Watershed cropland is covered by some form of erosion control, a host of effective tools are farm-ready.

Published on: Dec 19, 2013

This is the first time NRCS has updated a CEAP cropland report for a particular region, allowing for comparison in conservation effects between two points in time – from 2006 to 2011. This report considers impacts of all conservation practices, regardless of NRCS involvement.

Don Pettit, State Conservationist for New York points out that some form of erosion control has been adopted on 97% of cropland acres in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Not all those acres are fully treated to address sediment and nutrient losses, he adds. But it's a positive indication of farmers' willingness to do their part to help restore the bay watershed.

And since 2011, farmers have accelerated adoption of conservation practices including cover crops, manure incorporation, variable-rate applications and sidedressing. All help keep nutrients and sediment on fields and out of nearby waterways, he adds.

A Closer Look At NRCSs Chesapeake Bay Watershed Update
A Closer Look At NRCS's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Update

Major conservation changes
Here's a quick peek at documented changes from 2006 to 2011:
Cover crops: Land with cover crops rose from 12% of acres to 52%.
* Structural practices for controlling water erosion: 14% increase, from 52% to 66% of cropped acres;
* Practices that trap sediment and nutrients at edge-of-field: 17% increase, from 14% to 31% of cropped acres;
* Conservation tillage without any conventional tillage: 23% increase, from 56% to 79% of cropped acres;
* Continuous No-till: 16% increase, from 38% to 54% of cropped acres; and
* Cover crops us: 40% increase, from 12% to 52% of cropped acres.

Chesapeake Watershed conservation accomplishments
Compared to the 2003-06 baseline model, practices adopted in 2011 further reduced agricultural impacts in the Chesapeake Bay region:
* Sediment loss from fields: 63% reduction, from 5.1 to 1.9 tons per acre per year;
* Sheet and rill erosion greater than soil loss tolerance (T): 17% reduction, from 28 to 11% of acres;
* Nitrogen loss with surface sediment runoff: 38% reduction, from 15.7 to 9.7 pounds per acre per year;
* Nitrogen loss by subsurface leaching: 12% reduction, from 25.9 to 22.9 pounds per acre per year;
* Total phosphorus loss from fields: 44% reduction, from 3.4 to 1.9 pounds per acre per year;
* Soil organic carbon loss: 20% reduction, from 66% to 46% of cropped acres; and
* Soil carbon loss from fields: 50% reduction, from 189 to 95 pounds per acre per year.

2011 conservation results
For 2011, a comparison between acres with no winter cover and those adopting some form of winter cover plus other conservation measures for at least part of the crop rotation, had these beneficial results:
* Reduced sediment losses by 37%;
* Reduced surface losses of nitrogen by 28%;
* Reduced subsurface losses of nitrogen by 18%;
* Reduced total phosphorus losses by 29%; and
* Reduced carbon losses by 46%.

Download a fact sheet, a summary or the full report from USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Project.

Don't miss tomorrow's story about a true Chesapeake Bay clean waterkeeper – Temple Rhodes, an Eastern Shore Maryland farmer.