SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y., April 25, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- American Farmland Trust today released a new report to help Long Island communities and farmers pursue new conservation funding options made available through the new Farm Bill.
The report, Cultivating Clean Water: Leveraging Farm Bill Funding to Aid Suffolk County Farmers in Protecting Water Quality, highlights strategies for leveraging funding from the newly created Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
A total of $1.3 billion in RCPP funding is authorized over a period of five years to fund partnerships implementing programs on a regional or watershed scale to help groups of farmers adopt conservation practices to address regional water quality problems.
"There are many sources of nitrogen in Long Island watersheds – ranging from sewage treatment facilities and residential septic systems to applications of nitrogen fertilizer by homeowners and farmers. Agriculture is a critical part of Long Island's economy and farmers are a key ally in protecting water quality on Long Island," said David Haight, New York State Director of American Farmland Trust. "Funding from RCPP to help the region's farmers in adopting soil health and nutrient management practices as well as the permanent protection of farmland from real estate development would be very valuable in reducing nitrogen losses from farmland and protecting water quality."
Long Island farmers, local governments and land trusts have been national leaders in the protection and stewardship of farmland and the adoption of conservation practices that protect clean water.
The Cultivating Clean Water report outlines nine recommendations to engage farmers and this network of local partners to organize a coordinated effort to leverage new RCPP funds to assist farmers in permanently protecting their land from development and protecting water quality.
One strategy to increase the region's eligibility for RCPP funding recommended in the Cultivating Clean Water report is to seek designation of Long Island Sound and the Peconic Estuary as a Critical Conservation Area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack is expected to identify up to eight Critical Conservation Areas around the country later this spring.
"Safeguarding Long Island's water quality is vital to preserve and protect economic vitality of the Sound and help Long Island farmers for generations," said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who, along with Congressman Tim Bishop co-wrote a letter to Secretary Vilsack calling for Critical Conservation Area status for the region. "Designating Long Island as a Critical Conservation Area will provide the needed federal resources to improve the health of the Sound."
"Suffolk County farmers are making the effort to adapt environmentally-friendly practices and technologies, but more assistance is needed," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. "A Critical Conservation Area designation will provide local farmers with the financial and technical assistance they need to scale up their stewardship efforts. It also reinforces my administration's priority of protecting Suffolk County's drinking and surface waters."
"Protecting the quality of Long Island's water is an urgent priority," said Congressman Tim Bishop. "I commend Long Island's farm community for its leadership in adopting more environmentally-friendly farming methods to conserve water and ensure that it is suitable for drinking and basic needs. It is my sincere hope that USDA will designate the Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay watershed as a Critical Conservation Area with federal funding to meet our water quality goals."
"Farmers have been proactive in protecting drinking water as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic Estuary from high levels of nitrogen," added Haight."However adoption of conservation practices that reduce nitrogen entering ground and surface water can be expensive for farmers and there is also a risk of loss in yield or crop quality. These concerns are particularly acute for Suffolk County farmers who produce high-value, specialty crops that can generate thousands of dollars per acre in gross revenue."
In 2011, American Farmland Trust and Cornell Cooperative Extension launched a partnership to accelerate farmers' adoption of conservation practices to protect water quality. Since then, the partners have worked with 26 sweet corn and potato farmers to use a new form of fertilizer that is less susceptible to nitrogen losses from farmland.
American Farmland Trust has adapted its national BMP Challenge (Best Management Practice) Challenge program to offer yield guarantees to farmers that are working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to experiment with the practice on their farms.
"Everybody has to do their part as far as nitrogen is concerned," said Jennifer Halsey, a 12th generation farmer at Milk Pail Farm & Orchard in Water Mill that participates in the conservation program. "We rely on this water source to drink. Anything you put in the soil is going to end up in the water if there is too much…We all have to take care of it."
A copy of the report is available online: http://newyork.farmland.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/LICleanWater.pdf
American Farmland Trust will host the Farmland, Food and Livable Communities national conference in Lexington, Kentucky on October 20-22. Visit www.farmland.org for more information.
For more information on the policies and programs of the American Farmland Trust, visit www.farmland.org, follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmericanFarmland or Twitter www.twitter.com/farmland.
David Haight, New York State Director, American Farmland Trust
SOURCE American Farmland Trust