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We Are All the Watershed: Ag Progress Days in Happy Valley

The annual Ag Progress Days, hosted by Penn State University’s College of Agriculture Sciences, kicked off Tuesday morning in Furnace, Pa. Each year, the college and hundreds of partners, including nongovernmental organizations, governments, and businesses, join together to discuss, demonstrate, and display advances in agriculture. 

This year’s events highlight the growing importance of water quality and conservation efforts needed in the agriculture sector. Much has been done to advance sustainability in recent years by farmers, but more work is ahead.

As I serve as PennFuture’s Campaign Manager for Watershed Advocacy, I am spending this week at Ag Days learning from farmers and agriculture professionals, as well as talking to partners and educating participants about the essential connection between environmental stewardship in farming and clean water. 

Pennsylvania boasts more than 85,000 miles of rivers and streams. These streams flow through farms, backyards, cities, and towns. No matter where we live, we each play a unique and essential role to protect our water. The exhibits, lectures, and events this year are educating attendees about riparian buffers on farmland, linking land preservation to water quality goals, and implementing best management practices, including no-till farming, streambank fencing, and tree plantings.

The theme that has resonated with me throughout the day, from driving through the mountains of Huntingdon County, over the Juniata River, and alongside the famous and pristine Spruce Creek in Centre County, is the idea of connecting the land ethic of farmers to a culture of stewardship for our streams, creeks, and rivers. 

I began the day with a session on using drones for agriculture and conservation practices, and participated in a town hall meeting with the PA Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding on the high priority issues facing Pennsylvania agriculture and water quality. As the day unfolded, I heard from head Penn State University researchers who developed and executed the recent PA Farm Conservation Survey, learned about using live stakes for stream restoration, trees for trout, and creating community partnerships to make a difference.

Today, the Pennsylvania State House Agriculture Committee will discuss the latest on clean water goals as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed clean up efforts, and Governor Tom Wolf will host a luncheon to discuss agriculture and conservation in the Commonwealth. Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-5, R) will host a"Barnyard Discussion," to hear directly from stakeholders from various sectors of Pennsylvania’s agriculture.

The beautiful thing about this show each year is the fact that people come together in partnership with environmental conservation groups, agriculture trade associations, alliances, and coalitions across the gamut of school of thought and background. Local, state, and federal government representatives also come together to talk about the state of agriculture, farming life, and conservation in Pennsylvania. And we are all working together for solutions.

I was reminded repeatedly through the visits to the seed and machinery companies, the farmers asking the tough questions about the best cover crops for clean water, and the college students presenting on livestock and baling hay: we all make up the watershed. 

Each one of us is a member of a specific watershed with a home and a real effect on our streams. While working to restore and protect our public natural resources may seem like a daunting challenge with many complexities, we can each do our part by supporting our local farmers, planting trees, participating in stream clean-ups, joining watershed associations, and reminding our state and national legislators the importance of standing up for our water. 
Through collective action and public participation, we can all make a difference. We are all the watershed. 

Tune in tomorrow for more reflections and take-aways from Happy Valley.

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