November 4, 2010
Columbia County Farmers Make Headway
on Conservation Efforts
Changes improve farm productivity and water quality
(BERWICK, PA) – Five Columbia County farmers are demonstrating that by making changes to their daily operations that they can improve their bottom line and herd health by keeping soil on the fields, livestock out of the streams, and at the same time improving local water quality.
The Columbia County farmers and 39 others in Pennsylvania are participating in a new program administered by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), with federal funding provided through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). The goal of the program is to help improve the farms' sustainability and profitability while improving water quality in local streams, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers see the value.
"Our family has been involved in dairy and crop farming for four generations, and soil conservation and water resources have always been important to us," said Mr. John Zaginaylo, participant in the PENNVEST program. "This opportunity helps us meet our goals while doing the right thing for the land."
Other farmers agree with the Zaginaylo's.
"While each farm is different, many of the projects include things like installing concrete pads on heavy use areas, watering facilities, fencing, stream buffers, and manure storage and transport projects," said David Wise, CBF's PA Restoration Manager. "Each of the projects is contributing to healthier waters, but also helps the farmer better manage day-to-day operations."
Estimates show the conservation practices implemented through the program will reduce more than 838,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution, 286,000 pounds of phosphorus pollution, and 678 tons of sediment pollution from local streams.
The Zaginaylo family owns and operates the "FourZagHill" farm, located on 548 acres in Columbia County. The 70 head dairy farm is situated on a steep, forested property that is also the headwaters for several streams including Briar Creek.
John, his wife Laune, daughter Rosalie, and his son John IV all work on the farm. Conservation of the natural resources is important to the entire family, with particular attention paid to soil conservation due to the terrain.
"I began participating in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) through their cropland program and enrolled 55 acres of my land that is really sensitive to erosion and too steep to safely farm. Today that land has been converted to cool season and warm season grasses which help protect the soil from eroding and also provides habitat for wildlife," said Zaginaylo.
To further decrease soil loss and also maintain nutrient-rich soil for planting, Zaginaylo uses a no-till system to plant hay, corn, and soybeans on the entire operation.
Andy Wodehouse, Buffer Specialist for CBF, helped Mr. Zaginaylo preserve five acres of sensitive streamside habitat located on the property by planting a riparian forest buffer, and a stream crossing for the heifers.
"Because he was willing to construct the fencing to keep livestock from the stream, we are now in the process of developing an alternate livestock watering system to provide water to livestock while grazing," said Wodehouse. "The watering system will enhance his ability to successfully manage the grass resource. Their realistic use of a steep-sloped property has resulted in minimal soil erosion, water quality protection, and in habitat for wildlife."
Success for the Zaginaylo's and the other 43 farmers are the result of federal funding and local commitment.
"We applaud PENNVEST's efforts to expand its funding to include fixes for non-point sources including agriculture. It is typically far less expensive to reduce water pollution from non-point sources such as agriculture than from point sources such as sewage treatment plants," said Matt Ehrhart, PA Executive Director of CBF.
A tough economy and limited funding resources means making the most from every dollar.
"The changes taking place on the Zaginaylo farm and on other Columbia County farms are also occurring around the state. These changes will help Pennsylvania meet its commitments for improving water quality while boosting local economies," said Brion Johnson, PENNVEST's Deputy Executive Director for Project Management. "Helping our farmers improve their business and the health of their animals, while at the same time making our streams healthier is a win for everyone."
Partners in the project include the Zaginaylo family, CBF, PENNVEST, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Columbia County Conservation District.
"The rotational grazing project at the Zaginaylo dairy farm was a "win – win" situation for both the farmer and water quality. By converting intensively farmed crop ground along a stream to a permanent pasture rotational grazing system, nutrient and sediment runoff was greatly reduced which in turn benefitted water quality," said Todd Rush, Resource Conservationist for the Columbia County Conservation District. "The conversion is also helping the farmer reach his goals by making the converted acres more profitable and reducing his dependence on fossil fuels. The Columbia County Conservation District welcomed the opportunity to partner with CBF and PENNVEST to get conservation on the ground in the Bay Watershed."
The majority of funds came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as federal stimulus funds. Additional assistance was provided through the USDA, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and technical assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Local suppliers and contractors did a majority of the on-site work.