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DEP Provides $3.7 Million, Technical Assistance to Farmers
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 08/14/2020

Ramping up its agricultural compliance outreach, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) launched two programs in July that provide $3.7 million and technical assistance to help farmers develop and carry out plans of best management practices (BMPs) that can benefit their operations while improving the health of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania's share of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Inspections Program (CBAIP) Phase 2 provides Conservation Districts in Adams, Chester, and Lancaster Counties with $2.5 million in 2019 Environmental Stewardship Funds and $300,000 in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding to help farmers, when needed, install the BMP projects specified in their plans to improve water quality. The Agricultural Plan Reimbursement Program has $900,000 available to reimburse farmers across the watershed (which includes all or part of 43 counties) for some of the cost of developing BMP plans.

"Our goal is healthy waters, healthy farms," said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "We've developed programs that provide quickly accessible funding and customized technical assistance to help farmers put BMPs in place that not only meet requirements to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff in local waters, but also can protect their long-term survival, by helping them retain cropland, keep soil productive, and profitably manage their nutrients."

"Pennsylvania farmers have kept food on our tables through good times and bad," Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. "The long-term survival of their farms depends on healthy soil and clean water. These programs are a tangible way for us as a state to support the farmers who feed us and help ensure that they are able to continue feeding us in the future."

Agricultural compliance is one of the top priority initiatives in Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan. CBAIP first launched in 2016 and there are two phases of inspections. Phase 1 inspections ensure that farmers have their required manure management and/or erosion and sediment control plans. Phase 2 focuses on progress farmers are making in installing the BMPs specified in the plans.

More than 8,150 farms in the watershed have been inspected since CBAIP Phase 1 launched, with 96 percent achieving compliance with planning requirements without need for enforcement action. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires inspection of at least 10 percent of farm acreage in the watershed.

In Phase 2, staff from Lancaster, Chester, and Adams County Conservation District offices will visit some of these farms in their counties to verify that agricultural plans remain consistent with the current conditions of the farm and BMPs specified in the plans are being implemented on schedule. Barnyard runoff controls, fencing, and grassed waterways, terraces, and diversions are examples of typical BMPs.

When needed, the program offers funding to offset the cost of BMPs and helps farmers get them underway quickly. DEP encourages farms in these three counties that were inspected during Phase 1 to reach out to their County Conservation District for more information about this funding program.

Lancaster, Chester, and Adams counties were selected for the CBAIP Phase 2 funding program on the basis of their Conservation Districts' engagement in Phase 1, the availability of technical staff to prioritize and assist with BMP implementation, and the extent of nutrient and sediment runoff on farms in these counties.

DEP regional staff will also conduct Phase 2 inspections in other southcentral counties and will refer farmers to their County Conservation Districts and private consultants, as needed, for assistance with installing BMPs.

Farmers may combine DEP funding with Conservation Excellence Grants and Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP) tax credits available through the Department of Agriculture, as well as other public grants and private funding.

In addition, DEP began the fourth year of its Agricultural Plan Reimbursement Program, which provides farmers across the watershed funding to help with the cost of having a technical expert develop their management plans for manure, nitrogen, or erosion and sediment. Small farmers are especially encouraged to register.

Consultants' services generally cost from $500 to $1,500 per plan, depending on the size of the farm. Landowners will be repaid the cost of plans developed on or since January 1, 2019. More than one plan may be submitted for total reimbursement of up to a maximum of $6,000. The deadline to register is April 1, 2021. Find more information and register at Agricultural Plan Reimbursement Program.

The first three years of the Agricultural Plan Reimbursement Program provided farmers more than $1.5 million for more than 1,900 plans, covering approximately 350,000 acres in the watershed. The program is supported by the Environmental Stewardship Fund and other state funds.

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