Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Commission
Ann Swanson is trained as wildlife biologist and terrestrial ecologist. She has a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont and an ecology degree from Yale University. She has worked to conserve the Chesapeake Bay since 1983. For the past 18 years she has served as Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the tri-state legislative assembly from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The Commission serves as a catalyst for policy innovation.
The Chesapeake Bay Agreement of 1983 set the stage for the collaborative multi-state/federal partnership to clean up the world’s most productive estuary system. The 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreementset the first quantitative nutrient reduction goals and the Chesapeake 2000 agreement committed Chesapeake Bay partners to restore Bay water quality by 2010. Reduction in nutrient and sediment loads emanating from farming operations in the watershed in Pennsylvania, Delaware and other states is a high priority in the clean-up effort.
While some progress has been made in reducing these loads from levels measured in 1985, the rate of progress must increase if the goals are to be met. Our guiding principle at the Chesapeake Bay Commission is to support the successful attainment of the Chesapeake Bay nutrient and sediment reduction goals while strengthening the economic viability of agriculture in the watershed. This should be accomplished by meeting farmer demand for funding and technical assistance in reducing nutrient and sediment loads, encouraging participation in conservation programs, and leveraging federal resources as well as state and local dollars. A key source of federal resources will be the 2007 Farm Bill.
During 2006, while the development of the next Farm Bill is still in the early stages, it is important to develop a productive dialog on addressing the needs and recommendations within our watershed. Toward that end, our working group conducted 40 outreach sessions with the agricultural community in the Chesapeake Bay region and developed five Farm Bill priorities. They are as follows:
- Establish a nationwide program of “Regional Stewardship Funds” to increase flexibility in the use of federal funds for state- or multi-state-based water quality and stewardship initiatives. At present, many Farm Bill conservation programs are limited by insufficient mechanisms to coordinate of leverage other funding. This inhibits the ability to devise regional solutions to complex environmental challenges.
- Reauthorize and implement the Conservation Security Program throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This program, established in the 2002 Farm Bill, rewards farmers for the environmental benefits they provide. However, funding limitations have severely restricted the ability of the program to deliver on a geographic scale. This program needs to be substantially expanded.
- Target funds to maximize environmental benefits and ecological services. The Farm Bill must direct more money to support those practices such as conservation farming and nutrient management that best address watershed needs. This requires a shift in focus of resources from a program-driven to an outcome-driven strategy.
- Provide increased support for the viability of agriculture by providing farmers with assistance in market development, renewable energy applications and risk management. With farms comprising one quarter of the land use in the watershed, it is critical that they remain profitable so that the land does not convert to urban development, which creates the potential for higher nutrient loads than farming.
- Increase finding and technical assistance for conservation-related programs. The conservation programs in the Farm Bill provide the lion’s share of federal funds used to support farmers to practice good stewardship in the Bay region.
The need for these Farm Bill reforms is not unique to the Chesapeake Bay region. These recommendations apply to other watershed regions throughout the United States that are struggling with the same issues that we are. We believe incorporating them into the next legislation benefits not only water quality but also the viability of farming.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.