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42nd annual Ag Progress Days kicks off with town hall

Meeting focuses on water quality

ROCK SPRINGS — It’s all about progress in agriculture at Ag Progress Days.

During the opening day of the 42nd annual event held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center the Dean of Pennsylvania State College of Agricultural Sciences Rick Roush and Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding spoke about progress made in water quality not just in the past year, but in the past several years.

“Water quality is a top priority for the college,” Roush said. “A team of educators and specialists have come together to bring resources to individuals and communities needing help with water quality issues.”

He said that in early 2016, Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, with funding assistance from a variety of state agencies, conducted a survey of 20,000 farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Roush explained that a total of 6,782 surveys were completed and returned.

“That was about a 30 percent response rate,” he said. “We thought that was a good response.”

He added many of the farmers who completed the survey under-reported their implementation process for water quality.

“This was determined because we went to randomly selected farms to verify their responses,” Roush explained.

Seeing the implementation plans in action was not the only positive and progressive thing to come in the past year in water quality.

Redding explained that recently there was a briefing held on the water quality. He said everything that the Chesapeake Bay Watershed looks for in better water quality saw improvements.

¯ Dissolved nutrient concentrates are decreasing

¯ Atmospheric disposition of nitrogen on the decline

¯ Sea grasses have expanded coverage in the bay

¯ and the dead zone is the smallest in several years

“We, as a state, have really worked together to implement the [Environmental Protection Agency] rules and regulations for the watershed,” Redding said. “We are not only doing it because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do for all residents of [Pennsylvania].”

However, both said the success is not only due to the individual farmer level or the state, but it is because of partnerships.

“We succeed because of partnerships on all levels,” Redding said.

Some Redding called out were the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Farm Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, State Conservation Commission, Pennsylvania Conservation Districts, Chesapeake Bay Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension.

“We can’t do what we do without these relationships,” Redding said.

Roush said the next is to create a Watershed Steward Program. This program allows for new partnerships with local conservation organizations, with the goal to educate the public and municipal officials.

“We also want to focus on other issues pertaining to water quality,” Roush said.

This could include storm water run-off.

Redding said regardless of the progress made more can be made.

“We were given a 2025 deadline,” he said. “But we want to look beyond that.”

Redding said he looks toward not only achieving the goals by 2025, but finding ways to continue to improve thinking as far ahead as 2050.

“It is all about being good stewards,” he explained. “We have done well, but we can improve.”

Ag Progress Days continues today from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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