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Chester County Press

Pa. Ag secretary announces $1.5 million grant for agricultural conservation research

05/02/2024 12:47PM ● By Richard Gaw

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding met with Stroud Water Research Center Executive Director Dave Arscott and Stroud’s Director of Watershed Restoration Matthew Ehrhart on April 26 to announce that the department is dedicating $1.5 million grant funding for conservation research in the commonwealth.

The approved funding follows Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed $10 million Agriculture Innovation and Conservation Fund that was announced in February. The announcement was made on a farm in Avondale, one of dozens of farms where Stroud is studying how multiple conservation practices might reduce the loss of valuable soil and nutrients from farmland, increase farm resilience to climate extremes, enhance the health of local streams, reduce flooding and erosion, and support wildlife and clean water. 

“Being in agriculture myself, I always say that there are decisions we make that are seasonal decisions – what we grow and how we grow it and what we need to do to make sure at the end of the day that what goes into the ground and comes off is a really important decision,” he said. “There are decisions we make that are lifetime decisions – the things that we do relative to the business we build -- but also in agriculture, we have what are known as generational decisions. It’s not about what me or my family have done, but it’s about what we plant that impacts the next several generations.”

Redding said that the challenge of agriculture is to find the “equilibrium” between the economic enterprise of agriculture and “what we’re expected to do and what we have expectations to do.”

“This is the business. How do we do it better?” he said. “How do we get closer to this equilibrium that we are in search of? The project here is a really good example of that – new knowledge and translating that for both the community’s and the farmers’ benefit, and ultimately for society’s benefit.”

Long known for its study of freshwater science, Stroud began a watershed restoration program in 2013 so that scientists could both inform and learn from activities meant to protect and restore streams and rivers. That has led to long-term partnerships with farmers who receive guidance and funding to implement stream–friendly practices. 

“Pennsylvania farmers are so fortunate to have Stroud Water Research Center in the commonwealth, leading advancements in innovation and stewardship,” Redding said. “Stroud’s research empowers farmers with the knowledge and tools to harness the latest science and information to make informed decisions that benefit the environment and economic vitality of our agriculture industry.”

 “It was a conservation innovation award in 2015 that enhanced our focus on agricultural research and established our program in field scale experimentation,” Arscott said. “That research, to measure the impacts of cover crop, has led to a series of research projects with funding from the USDA, various private foundations, and the Department of Agriculture. Used together, these research projects now inform management practices regarding cover crop, pesticide transport and soil health, among other best management practices.”

Arscott said that Stroud is working with farmers to increase water efficiency on farms that include planting cover crops, beginning no-till farming and utilizing regenerative practices that focus on soil health. These practices, he said, will reduce soil and fertilizer loss, reduce farming costs and reduce the footprint of farming on the area’s waterways. 

“We recognize that farmers drive innovation based on economic decisions, and we also recognize that water is a shared and critical resource that does not respect administrative boundaries,” he said. “We have measured improvements and know that with continued investment and our shared commitment, we can continue to repair our streams, rivers and watersheds.”

Ehrhart also praised the many farmers Stroud has been working with.

“How do we drive our agriculture forward to do it better day by day?” he said. “We’re working with dozens and dozens of new farmers every year who are voluntarily coming forward to make that investment in conservation and research, with an eye towards more sustainable, more resilient food supply.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].