Sustainable farming for business and the Bay

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff Jason Scott plows a buffer strip Aug. 24 placed in conservation on a family farm in Linkwood. The buffer strip will be planted with native grasses meant to capture and filter excess nutrients

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
Jason Scott plows a buffer strip Aug. 24 placed in conservation on a family farm in Linkwood. The buffer strip will be planted with native grasses meant to capture and filter excess nutrients


Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about NASA’s report on Chesapeake Bay water quality.
CAMBRIDGE — For Jason Scott, best management practices are both good business and a way to help maintain environmental sustainability.

Mr. Scott, 34, comes from a line of at least six generations of farmers on both sides. His family has farmed the Eastern Shore since before the Revolutionary War. His father, Douglas Scott, was assistant secretary for resource conservation under Robert Ehrlich and helped to implement the Maryland Department of Agriculture Cover Crop Program.

In April, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences published its Chesapeake Bay report card for 2015. NASA then captured a satellite image of the Eastern Shore from Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. The image focused on part of Dorchester County and was used to highlight BMPs. According to the report card, Bay water quality has improved slightly, and researchers think BMPs are part of the reason for the improvement.

The satellite image appeared with images from other Bay watersheds in an online article by Adam Voiland, “How Farms Affect the Chesapeake Bay’s Water: Image of the Day.” Before publishing the article, NASA representative Heather Hanson reached out to Jason Scott to find BMPs in the picture. Ms. Hanson went to high school with Jason Scott’s wife.

The Scott family tills roughly 1,500 acres in Dorchester and about two-thirds of those properties are near Hurlock. Some of the acreage is family owned.

With subsidies from the Maryland Agricultural Cost Share program, known as MACS, Mr. Scott’s family built a chicken manure shed on a family plot on his mother’s side in Linkwood. The farm also has buffer strips and a man-made wetland placed in conservation. Mr. Scott plants cover crops as well. All of these are BMPs meant to catch excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, before they enter groundwater, streams and ultimately the Bay.

According to Mr. Voiland’s report, “… manure and fertilizer remain the sources of half of all the nitrogen and phosphorus that drain into the Bay.” These excess nutrients lead to algal blooms that pull oxygen from the water and cause dead zones among other problems.

According to Mr. Scott, sustainability has more than one meaning.

“There’s a lot of arguments about what sustainability really is, but there’s different kinds of sustainability,” he said. “You have to be successful at environmental sustainability, and business and finance sustainability, to remain in business. You can’t put everything into the environmental sustainability bucket and lose money every year because eventually you’re going to be out of business. And likewise, you can’t go the other way or you’re going to deplete your soil and wind up with a dust bowl.”

The artificial wetland on the family farm in Linkwood is a reflection of finding a balance between business and the Bay.

“The best thing you can do is take a look at your own operation,” Mr. Scott said. “For example, on our farm there’s a 9-acre field that we turned into a wetland because I looked back, and eight out of 10 years, we didn’t make money on it. … If you’re not making a profit on it, then there’s really no sense in farming it.”

Ultimately, Mr. Scott said he enjoys living on the Eastern Shore and he is doing his part to maintain quality of life for everyone here.

“I’m not in this to grow a crop for one year,” he said. “I own a lot of this land. Even the land that we don’t own, we’re going to take care of it exactly like it’s ours. I want to farm it for a lifetime. If my kids choose to farm, I hope they can farm it for a lifetime and keep this thing going. … “All these things benefit both the crop to some degree, the overall environment, and the Bay. I crab. I fish. I eat crabs and fish and oysters and everything else. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

To read the NASA report, visit http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=88523

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