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Money available for area farms to reduce pollution

ASSOCIATED PRESS A hunter walks through a farm’s field in Cambria County.

Local farmers could be seeing funds to improve soil health and reduce pollution from water runoff into streams and rivers, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We know, there are farmers who want to do the right thing, and in a lot of cases funding gets in the way,” said B.J. Small, state media and communications director for the foundation.

The roughly $820,000 in funds from the National Resource Conservation Service as well as local partners, will go primarily toward technical assistance as well as education and implementation of various projects. The money will go to farmers in Lycoming, Clinton and Centre counties.

The foundation is an independent conservation organization that has been working to decrease the flow of pollution into the bay since 1967.

As a result of the 2014 Farm Bill, authorizing conservation programs across the country, the conservation service will provide about $396,800 to the three counties and the rest will be matched by local organizations, including the foundation, according to Small. He added that the program is still in its infancy and the funds will “go to farmers who are able to participate.”

“This funding is good news for Pennsylvania farmers, their land, and local rivers and streams,” said Harry Campbell, executive director of the foundation. “It will enhance the productivity and economic well-being of participating farms, by not only improving the soil, but by keeping it on the farms as well.”

The program is volunteer based, according to Small, and local conservation districts will be key in identifying farmers to participate. He added that the bulk of the money will go toward drafting the plans for each project.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, commended the foundation in acquiring the money for local farmers.

“That’s all great and all adds up to cleaner water which means a cleaner bay,” Everett said. He is the vice-chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a government entity also looking to improve the water quality of the bay.

While the two organizations are separate, they are kept abreast of what the other is doing and are ultimately striving for the same thing, Everett said.

Both Everett and Small agree that even with the new funds coming in there is still a long way to go in terms of water quality and the flow of pollution into the bay.

“There is still a lot of work ahead,” Small said, but added that “anything we can do hopefully will make a difference.”

According to a survey of nearly 7,000 farmers that was conducted by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, many state farmers already are implementing their own best management practices without state or federal oversight.

The work and initiative by the farmers is to be commended, Everett said, but he also stressed the need for farmers to report the conservation work they implement. Accurate reporting to the Department of Environmental Protection will increase its ability to regulate more appropriate standards for local farmers, he said.

Everett said one goal of the commission is to educate farmers on techniques they can begin implementing, while also finding ways to help them.

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