Thriving Farms

Fortunately for the people who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, agriculture is one of the largest land uses in the region.  Accordingly, it is no surprise that agriculture is also one of the largest sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loading in many of the streams and rivers that flow into the Bay.  In fact, having abundant, fertile farmland in our region is the kind of problem that the staff and board of Sustainable Chesapeake are grateful have.

To achieve our vision of thriving farms along the shores of a healthy Chesapeake Bay, we partner with farmers and stakeholders throughout the watershed to demonstrate innovative technologies and expand adoption of conservation practices that benefit both farm production and the environment. Our projects focus on achieving regional nutrient balance and include:


Reducing nutrient loss from land-application of manure through manure injection:


Typically, manure is applied to the soil surface where rainfall can wash valuable nutrients into streams and rivers.  Surface application also increases the risk that manure nitrogen will be lost to the air, where it can form fine particulate matter – an air pollutant. In contrast, research conducted in the region has demonstrated that manure injection technologies that inject manure below the soil surface can reduce the loss of nutrients by as much as 90 percent compared to surface application.

In this video taken on an Eastern Shore farm in Maryland, you can see how a drag hose vertical tillage manure injection system used by Tim McMichael, owner of McMichael’s Custom Spreading is used to inject manure into corn stubble.  Manure is injected with minimum soil disturbance and after injection,  you can hardly tell that manure has been applied. Not only does this approach reduce potential loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to nearby surface waters, but it also reduces odor. That’s a win for both farmers and the Bay.

To expand the adoption of manure injection, Sustainable Chesapeake is working with partners throughout the Chesapeake Bay region on the Subsurface Application of Manure (SAM) project to expand the adoption of liquid manure injection technologies and to develop new technologies that can be used to inject dry manures, like poultry litter.  Our partners include land grant university agronomists and engineers, conservation districts, custom manure applicators and farmers.

Securing $7 million for on-farm conservation:

Sustainable Chesapeake worked with partners throughout the region to secure additional funding through the USDA’s Resource Conservation Partnership Program for critical conservation practices such as planting riparian buffers and fencing cattle out of streams.


Fencing and off-stream watering systems prevent cattle from trampling stream banks and fouling surface waters (photo by Jeff Vanuga, courtesy of the Virginia Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Building Collaborative Teams to Expand Conservation Implementation:

In Virginia, Sustainable Chesapeake initiated the Virginia Nutrient Management Leadership Team (VNMLT), a group of stakeholders including agricultural, industry, and conservation professionals, to develop strategies to expand the adoption of nutrient management planning on farms in Virginia. Nutrient management plans provide guidance on fertilizer and manure application rate, timing, and method to promote robust crop production and protect water quality. They can save farmers money on fertilizer by avoiding over-application. The Chesapeake Bay Program estimates that implementing nutrient management plans can reduce nutrient loss to surface waters by  5 to 9.25 percent for total nitrogen, and 8 to 10 percent for total phosphorus, depending on the type of crop and fertilizer source. The VNMLT is currently in the process of gathering feedback from farmers and industry professionals on how to engage more farmers in the nutrient management planning process.


Nutrient management planning can save farmers money and help protect water quality (photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

The Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative: Using excess manure to generate renewable energy and new revenue opportunities for farms

With our Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative funders and partners, we worked with poultry growers throughout the Chesapeake Bay region to demonstrate and evaluate the performance of thermal manure-to-energy technologies. These technologies use excess poultry litter as a fuel to provide heat for poultry housing or electricity for the grid.  Nutrients are concentrated in the resulting ash or biochar and can be transported long-distances, cost-effectively, to fields where additional phosphorus fertilizer is needed. Participating farms are located in “phosphorus hotspots” of the Chesapeake Bay where the land application of manure contributes to the highest phosphorus loading rates in the watershed.  For more information on the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative, including a comprehensive report on the project results, visit the clearinghouse website developed to serve as an information sharing platform about thermal manure-to-energy systems. This video features two of our farm partners and provides a synopsis of the project:

Control Panel

Mark Rohrer stands by a control panel for a poultry litter-fueled, manure-to-energy system installed on his poultry farm in Strasburg, PA

Our Funders

Sustainable Chesapeake’s funders and foundation partners are critical to helping us achieve our vision for thriving farms alongside healthy local streams, rivers and Chesapeake Bay.  Our Thriving Farms projects are funded by:

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Program, providing resources for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative, our efforts to expand adoption of manure injection technologies, and to achieve regional phosphorus balance in the region.  The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided key leadership necessary to leverage private foundation matching funds necessary to secure federal grant dollars, bring resources needed to implement these project.

The U.S. EPA Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program has provided support for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative, the subsurface application of manure project, and efforts to achieve regional phosphorus balance. The U.S. Environmental Protection agency and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grants program supports efforts within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to accelerate nutrient and sediment reductions with innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches.

The Campbell Foundation helped to launch Sustainable Chesapeake and has been a key funder of our work to bring new technologies to farms in the region (like manure-to-energy and manure injection technologies) and has supported our efforts to encourage collaborative initiatives that bring forward solutions that work for both farmers and water quality.

Virginia Environmental Endowment helped us to launch the Virginia Nutrient Management Leadership Team, a collaborative effort in Virginia to strengthen nutrient management planning efforts on farms in Virginia.

Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Trust Fund is helping Sustainable Chesapeake and our partners (including the Catoctin & Frederick Soil Conservation District, McMichael Custom Spreading, Alleghey Ag, the Sassafras River Association, University of Maryland Extension, and 40 dairy farmers as of June, 2017) to expand the adoption of manure injection in Maryland.

The USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Program has provided support our efforts to demonstrate and evaluate the performance of manure-to-energy technologies and expand the adoption of manure injection (dairy and poultry litter) in the region.

The Chesapeake Bay Funders Network led efforts to secure federal funding needed to launch the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative. In partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, they provided non-federal matching funds needed to secure federal grant funding through the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Program necessary to fund the project.