WILLIAMSBURG, Va., – On Aug. 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a comprehensive, three-year action plan that outlines its priorities and goals for using current and future Farm Bill conservation programs to help agricultural producers improve the water quality and overall health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Agriculture is an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s culture and economy, and it plays a critical role in improving water quality and the health of the bay,” said Bill Northey, USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “This plan reaffirms our commitment to continue our partnerships to help agricultural producers plan and implement improvements on their land using voluntary conservation programs.”

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action Plan outlines the goals of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for fiscal years 2018-2020, which include:

  • Helping producers implement conservation practices that improve water quality on 920,000 acres, improve soil health on 700,000 acres, and improve fish and wildlife habitat on 120,000 acres;
  • Training 4,700 public and private conservation professionals to plan and implement conservation practices that improve water quality, soil health, or fish and wildlife habitat; and
  • Increasing public participation by engaging 27,700 public and private partners and citizens in NRCS public meetings and committees to gain feedback about the agency’s programs and services in the watershed.

As USDA’s private lands conservation agency, NRCS developed the action plan, which will rely on financial and technical support Farm Bill conservation programs. These programs help producers plan and implement conservation activities that are scientifically proven to be effective at reducing excess nutrients and sediment loadings.

Since 2009, NRCS has helped improve 3.6 million acres of private, working agricultural and forest land within the Chesapeake Bay watershed by providing more than $1 billion in technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers and others.

USDA’s most recent Conservation Effects Assessment Project report documented a significant reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus loss resulting from conservation practices implemented since 2006. Farmers have implemented conservation practices on critical cropland acres that helped reduce nitrogen losses by 20 percent and phosphorus losses by 44 percent. In addition, recent monitoring in the bay has shown that submerged aquatic vegetation or bay grasses have recovered to record levels.

The Chesapeake Bay has been the focus of ongoing efforts to improve its water quality and natural resources. NRCS works closely with soil and water conservation districts, government agencies and non-government organizations to improve water quality through conservation efforts on public and private lands.

Northey made this announcement from the National Association of Conservation District’s summer meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. This meeting pulls together representatives from soil and water conservation districts from around the country, who are important to helping deliver key USDA conservation programs.

Learn more about NRCS activities in the watershed by visiting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage. For more information on conservation programs available in your area, contact your local USDA service center.