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Conservation practices a way to cleaner Bay?
Farmers can help keep pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay.

 Farmer Emmett Snead III, at his roadside stand along U.S. 17 in Caroline County, says farmers can keep pollution out of the bay.
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Date published: 7/24/2011


From U.S. 17, farmer Emmett Snead's spread in western Caroline County looks much like other area farms, with row after row of grain, fruit and vegetables.

But up close, there are differences that he says help keep pollution out of the Rappahannock River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

What Snead and some other area farmers do is key in the latest state and federal effort to restore the ailing bay.

"I was doing a lot of this back in 1980, before it was even talked about," Snead, 59, said in a recent interview on his 340 acres.

He began farming as a boy, helping his father, Emmett Snead Jr., on Braehead Farm in Fredericksburg. The younger Snead sold produce to customers in nearby Braehead Woods on his bicycle.

In 1973 he bought a farmette near Five-Mile Fork, then in 1981 the Caroline farm where he and his wife, Ellen, live.

The land, he says, is the most important commodity.

"Some resources can't be replaced, and topsoil is the same way. It takes forever to make it, and it hurts me to know that some of my topsoil may wash into that creek," he said, nodding toward a stream and lush wetland area behind the family home.

Snead, 59, rattles off benefits of what he calls "conservation" farming:

Sod buffers between fields, instead of erosion-prone bare earth, absorb runoff and act as soft pathways for farm equipment.

Most of the crops are planted using a no-till method, saving topsoil and reducing the amount of sediment going into creeks and the river. No-till planting inserts seeds directly into the soil, without tilling.

No nitrogen fertilizer goes on corn until it is knee-high--cutting by a quarter the amount needed through harvest. Nitrogen, a nutrient, contributes to vast bay "dead zones" during the summer months, feeding vast blooms of algae that rob the water of oxygen when they die.

The farm has acres and acres of fruit trees, Christmas trees and asparagus, which produce year after year, providing ground cover and a buffer.

Soon after fields are harvested, cover crops of sunflowers and buckwheat are planted, protecting the soil.

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The "pollution diet," or total maximum daily load, for the Chesapeake Bay was enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency last December.

It calls for cutting nitrogen by 25 percent a year, phosphorus by 24 percent and sediment by 20 percent. Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients and come from residential and farm fertilizers, sewage-treatment plants and other sources. Sediment is linked to erosion from urban landscapes.

The TMDL is aimed at putting into place all pollution-control measures to fully restore the bay and its tributaries by 2025.