Close to one-quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agricultural production. Agriculture is essential to all people: farms provide us with food and fiber, natural areas, and aesthetic and environmental benefits. Unfortunately, some agricultural practices—including over-watering farmland, over-tilling soil and over-applying fertilizers and pesticides—can push pollution into the Bay and its local waterways.

Well-managed agricultural lands can offer the watershed benefits and services, including sustained crop yields, restored rivers and streams, and valuable insect, bird and animal habitat. When effective agricultural land cover occurs year-round, these systems can store carbon, minimize soil erosion and reduce the watershed’s vulnerability to flooding and the effects of climate change.

Conservation practices—often called “best management practices” or “BMPs”—are being implemented on farms in the watershed to reduce agricultural runoff. Among many others, these practices include:

  • Conservation tillage, which leaves some of a farm field covered with crop residue or vegetation throughout the year. When tillage is reduced and soil is left undisturbed, a field is less prone to erosion.
  • Cover crops, which are grown to provide soil cover and prevent erosion after the main crop has been harvested. Cover crops can also absorb excess fertilizer and reduce nutrient loss from a field.
  • Forest buffers, which are planted along the edges of farm fields next to rivers and streams and can reduce the amount of pollutants flowing from the land into the water. In addition to slowing and absorbing polluted runoff, buffers stabilize stream banks, improve stream health and serve as habitat for wildlife.