Lancaster County farmland

Lancaster County farmland.

Multiple clean water projects in Lancaster County now have hopes of “crossing the finish line” after officials at the Lancaster Farmland Trust recently received more than $600,000 in state funding — their largest-ever conservation grant.

It’s funding that will allow trust officials to build on work already underway in East Lampeter Township, making on-farm improvements that should have environmental benefits both locally and downstream.

In many cases, it’s work that will help contribute to Lancaster County’s obligation to eliminate pollution that flows south to impair the Chesapeake Bay. And in some of those cases, it’s work that might not have been possible without an injection of funding, said Jeff Swinehart, the trust’s chief operating officer.

“We won’t attempt to speak for a farmer, but our experience is that the farmers we work with do lack the capital to install brick-and-mortar conservation improvements like this on their farms,” Swinehart said.

He gave an example — describing a commonly needed improvement on local farms — new waste management systems, which come at a cost of at least $100,000.

“And that’s just one of many improvements that are needed on some farms,” he said.

Largest conservation grant

Projects like those will benefit from the $670,947 grant awarded to the trust’s conservation program by officials at the state Department of Environmental protection. In a January newsletter, trust officials billed it as the largest grant received since the trust began conservation work in the early 2000s.

That money, in conjunction with additional funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, should be enough to make physical conservation improvements on at least three farms. Each property will have different needs, but Swinehart said work could include the installation of waste management systems, stormwater controls and stream crossings for livestock, among other improvements.

Similar projects are being implemented by multiple entities across the county as officials scramble to meet federal pollution reduction mandates developed in hopes of improving environmental health in the Chesapeake Bay. In Lancaster County, that means eliminating millions of pounds of harmful nutrients and sediments from local waterways by 2025.

A challenging goal

The goal, local planners have said, will be hard to meet, in part, because of a lack of available funding throughout the state.

Much of the work must take place within the agriculture community. Swinehart said local farmers have been willing, albeit a bit confused.

“We believe most farmers want to comply with regulations and improve the environmental impact of their farms, but they don’t know where to start or how to afford the changes needed,” he said. “And the current system of financial assistance is complex and cumbersome-to-navigate without the help of a third party — like Lancaster Farmland Trust.”

Working with Plain-sect farmers

The trust, Swinehart said, often works with Plain-sect farmers.

“Our status as a private entity eases the concerns of our Plain sect neighbors when it comes to accepting financial assistance for conservation projects,” he said.

And that assistance extends beyond the $670,947 grant, according to trust officials, who, this month, highlighted two additional sources of funding — $274,405, also from DEP, for conservation work in Upper Leacock Township, and $494,347 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for work in Salisbury Township.

“In addition, we’re partnering with numerous public and private entities to advance water quality in the county,” Swinehart said.

All of that work is apart from the trust’s farmland preservation operation.

Marking progress

Last year, trust officials worked with 216 farmers on conservation plans, completing projects that will result in the annual reduction of 18,000 pounds of nutrients and 18 tons of sediment from waterways, Swinehart said.

“Every year, those numbers are expanding because of demand from farmers,” he said. “Our limit to expanding this effort right now is available funding to provide technical and financial assistance, but also to equip the county with enough boots on the ground to build relationships, complete the on-farm assessments and forge the necessary relationships with farmers to make significant progress.”

What to Read Next