Agriculture

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Files Suit Against Virginia

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Kudos to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) for moving ahead on a major water quality issue in Virginia. This week CBF filed suit against Virginia’s Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) and the State Water Control Board over failure to enforce state regulations for livestock farmers.

One of the management practices Virginia has said it will implement to reduce water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is making sure all farmers keep their livestock out of streams and rivers through the use of fences and stream buffers. CBF has found that many Virginia livestock farmers are not implementing these management practices. This is thanks to the Virginia Pollution Abatement Permit, approved last year by the DEQ and the Water Control Board for a ten-year period. This permit does not require the state’s largest livestock farms (cattle, pig, poultry) to fence and buffer streams to which the livestock have access.

CBF’s challenge to the DEQ and the State Water Control Board, should it be upheld in court, will improve a flawed permitting process, ensure that Virginia does its part to reduce water pollution, and ultimately improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Fencing off streams and rivers from livestock reduces water quality issues in the tributaries and mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay. When livestock have wading access to bodies of water, they are able to pollute streams and rivers with their waste, adding to the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that enters the Bay. Livestock also erode stream banks, depositing sediment directly into the water, which makes its way downstream and eventually reaches the Bay.

By allowing farms to give their livestock access to streams and rivers, the DEQ and State Water Control Board are not enforcing the State Water Control Law, which calls for a reduction and prevention of water pollution. Furthermore, by not enforcing regulations that curb nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment runoff from agriculture, Virginia is violating its agreement with the EPA (in the Clean Water Blueprint) to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay from state waters.

The Richmond Circuit Court will hear arguments for this case this Thursday, July 2. Updates to come.
The original press release from CBF can be found here.

A Way to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff from Farms in the Chesapeake Watershed?

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A Way to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff from Farms in the Chesapeake Watershed?

The Bay Journal published an interesting article this week, looking at a way to reduce nitrogen from Maryland farms, using a bioreactor to filter runoff. The method has been used in the Midwest, and is currently being tested in the Chesapeake region.

More on 2014 Farm Bill

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Last week I posted a link to the 2014 Farm Bill, as passed by the House of Representatives. Yesterday, the bill was passed by the Senate. The 2014 Farm Bill makes several changes, including cuts in subsidies for farmers, cuts to federal food stamps, and major changes to funding for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). Congress created the CBWI five years under the previous Farm Bill to fund conservation initiatives for farmers and landowners in the Chesapeake watershed. Funding allows landowners to work with the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to set up stream buffers, restore wetlands, and implement other conservation practices. These measures reduce nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff to the Bay, which is the number one problem facing the Chesapeake.

The bill passed yesterday will create a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, of which the CBWI will be a part. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program lumps together four conservation programs, including the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regional programs with the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. The Chesapeake Bay Program released a document breaking down the funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which can be found here: (Chesapeake Bay Program).

Essentially, the new partnership program will force projects within the program to compete with one another for funding. As the Chesapeake Bay Program states, funding is awarded based on a “competitive, merit-based process.” But what criteria are used to merit funding and what happens to the programs that do not receive federal grants?

A press release from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine paints the new Farm Bill as a positive change for Virginia farmers and conservation of the Chesapeake. He claims the bill “ensures robust support for Chesapeake Bay restoration…” (Kaine Press Release).

A story from the Allegheny Front, a radio program from Pittsburgh, PA, gives a different side. Their January 31 story reports that the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will cut billions of dollars to conservation projects, and reduce the number of acres included in these projects. More specific to the Chesapeake watershed, competition could cause projects in the Bay area to lose out to other regions. A loss of money will mean fewer farmers and landowners will have the funds or the incentive to implement conservation practices on their lands, and the heath of the Bay will suffer. (Allegheny Front).

2014 Farm Bill con’t

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I’ve posted the link to the 2014 Farm Bill as passed by the House of Representatives (titled the Agricultural Act of 2014).

Agricultural Act of 2014

Oyster Farming on Antipoison Creek

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Last spring I worked on a report on the impacts of oyster acidification on the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) population in the Chesapeake Bay. To get some background information on the oyster growing process, I visited with a neighbor who harvests oysters for consumption on Antipoison Creek. I wanted to share some pictures and my understanding of the oyster farming process from that project.

Farmer Mike grows over 40,000 oysters, off of his shore and dock, and further out, in the creek and Chesapeake Bay. Mike buys oyster larvae from a nursery outside Mathews, Virginia. The nursery produces Dermo-disease resistant triploid oysters. (A good story on the creation of triploids, and their differences from diploid oysters is here: Chesapeake Quarterly).

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The larvae are raised in tanks, like the empty one above. When larvae attach themselves to a hard surface, which they must do to grow, they are called spat. Many farmers use a spat-on-shell approach; spat grow on oyster shells until they form their own shell, and are large enough to be moved. (Spat are less than 0.98 inches long; it can take up to a year for oysters to reach this size).

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The oysters are then moved to a net or strainer, shown above. Mike keeps the strainers in floats, suspended in the creek and attached to his dock.

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As the oysters grow, they are moved to larger cages, placed on the bed of the creek, and further out in the Bay. Separating oysters into cages at this stage reduces overcrowding and competition for food. It generally takes 2.5 – 5 years for an oyster to grow to market size ( 3 inches or longer). At this time, the oysters are collected, transported, and sold to local restaurants and markets.

Other interesting facts about the oyster farming process:

  • Spawning occurs from May to September- water temperature must be between 64-68 degrees F.
  • Oysters become dormant in colder water temperatures; they can survive freezing temperatures, if left submerged in water
  • Oyster growth is dependent on salinity, water quality, water depth, temperature, and the presence or absence of disease, predators, sedimentation, food source
  • Farmers, like Mike, must frequently test water quality, including dissolved oxygen levels, and concentrations of chlorophyll, which provides nutrients for oysters
  • The oyster can grow up to 8 inches long, but is usually sold for consumption at 3 inches

Further reading on the Eastern oyster: NOAA.

Raising oysters requires a great deal of care throughout the year. I found a site on cage handling and maintenance that has seasonal instructions for raising oysters, and additional info on the farming process. (Severn River Association).