Local farmer’s efforts aimed at restoring bay

A black mustang drinks from fresh spring water, the wind blowing its naturally crimped mane against its sleek, muscled flank. A russet calf grazes next to its mother, the fields bathed in the most golden moment before twilight.

Ted Barbour’s boots crunch on stones as he leads a group of Williamsport-Lycoming Young Professionals around the family farm he owns with his wife, Tracey, at 994 Paulhamus Hill Road in Cogan Station. While Barbour is a full-time physics teacher at Montoursville Area High School, he’s a hobby farmer the rest of the time.

He’s set aside 11 acres of land and planted forest buffers to prevent nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from running straight into the water. He participates with Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), a voluntary, federally subsidized program that cost-shares certain agricultural efforts to protect the environment. Along the stretch of land by the stream, he built a fence to keep the cows and horses out, thereby protecting the bank from erosion and further pollution from animal waste.

The efforts he and others like him are making are important, not just for local water health, but for the Chesapeake Bay. The bay is fed by the Susquehanna River, and those streams feed the river, the leading source of nitrogen pollution to the bay.

Barbour runs a 132-acre beef farm with about 50 cattle in the summer and 30 in the winter, plus a plethora of other animals. He grazes the cattle – which are entirely grass fed – in fields a good distance from the stream, so the grass and other plantlife can help absorb excess nutrients from the bovines before it reaches the water. He also rotates the cattle in field sections so they don’t over-graze one area, which allows the grass to revitalize during the rotation.

Halfway up the hill where the cows grazed, Barbour pointed to a soft globular, brown mass that evidenced the cows’ presence: a cow patty. Bugs had eaten holes throughout it, a good sign, he said. That shows it has nutrients within it from the cows getting a healthy diet. While that’s good for the cow, if the cows were closer to the stream or allowed in the stream, those nutrients would pollute the water.

A spring runs beneath an almost 400-year-old white ash tree, the largest in the county, which has helped keep the tree viable. The tree is 5 feet in diameter at chest height, and towers over the younger saplings Barbour planted near the pond. It’s now cracking down the middle from lightning and size, and the space is large enough to hold two to three people.

Larger sections of the land used to be swampy due to the spring’s flow, but Barbour channels the water by piping it into a man-made pond, which in turn is piped into the stream. That practice has allowed Barbour to use more of the land. He preserves certain parts as swamplands, for which he is reimbursed.

Because of his proactive environmental practices, he can participate in the Lycoming County’s nutrient credit trading program. The program allows participants who have too much nitrogen or phosphorus pollution to buy nutrient credits generated by others who are contributing less pollution than their legal allotment.

The Barbours are nutrient credit sellers because of their practices. They’ve sold 600 credits for each of the two years they’ve participated for about $3 a credit.

The price they get per credit varies from year to year, based on a statewide auction that determines the value.