The goal of this project is to reduce nutrient and sediment loss from dairy farms through the development and implementation of comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs). A CNMP is a conservation plan unique to livestock operations. These plans address the whole farm including animal housing, manure storage and crop production areas and document practices and strategies adopted by farms to protect water quality. Implementing a CNMP is a major step towards improving manure management, water quality and herd health.

This project was designed to address a critical gap in technical assistance related to the development of CNMPs. Each CNMP takes approximately two weeks from start to finish, and developing the plans was holding up conservation on dairy farms in both Maryland and Virginia. We helped to secure funding to hire and train CNMP writers, and to date, 92 CNMPs have been developed as a result of this project.

This project also aimed to help dairy farmers meet both voluntary and regulatory water quality goals. In Virginia, nutrient management implementation on most dairy farms is voluntary, but widespread adoption of this practice is critical to meeting Chesapeake Bay restoration goals. Maryland farmers are working to comply with regulations that limit manure spreading in the winter. Many farmers needed to expand their manure storage capacity to achieve this important conservation goal.

It's important to note that dairy farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region faced the worst economic climate most of them have seen in their lives during this project timeframe. For five years, the price many farmers were paid for their milk was lower than the cost to make the milk. Farmers facing bankruptcy risk the loss of their home, their way of life, and a farm that may have been in their family for generations.

It’s hard to imagine that dairy farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region were able to bear this financial stress and still find the time and resources for conservation. Yet incredibly, many did just that. Nearly 15 dairy farmers in Maryland and Virginia have made major investments in critical conservation infrastructure with funding support from Sustainable Chesapeake’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program project. These investments are helping them to better time manure application to crop growth, thereby reducing the loss of manure nutrients to surface and groundwater resources.

Needless to say, we are inspired and grateful for the opportunity to partner with such hardworking and conscientious people.